New Jersey Township Officials Reject Court Claim of Discrimination Against Orthodox Jews
Officials in the New Jersey township of Jackson have pushed back against claims made in court that Orthodox Jews were discriminated against over land use measures.
The case dates back to last April, when New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal filed a discrimination complaint against the township. The named defendants, who include Jackson Mayor Michael Reina, are alleged to have usedzoning powers to prevent an influx of Orthodox Jews from establishing residency in the township and to make it more difficult to practice their religion, violating New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.
Jackson is located next to Lakewood, New Jersey, which is home to 50,000 Orthodox Jews and the second-largest yeshiva in the world. Beginning in 2015, the complaint alleged, township residents began expressing opposition to Jewish residence to local officials. They also engaged in antisemitic rhetoric on social media, saying things such as “we need to get rid of them like Hitler did” and referring to Jews as “filthy f***ing cockroaches.”
At the time, Grewal declared: “We’ve filed this lawsuit because bias and hate have no home in New Jersey, and we will not allow some vocal residents’ intolerance to drive local government decisions.”
On Tuesday, the website Law360 reported that the township’s zoning board of adjustment and planning board urged the court to dismiss three counts of the four-count complaint from the state attorney general’s office, including claims that municipal officials acted unlawfully in conducting surveillance of homes suspected of hosting prayer gatherings and prohibiting religious schools in residential areas.
The three counts are “nothing more than vehicles for plaintiffs to set forth inflammatory factual allegations designed to ignite plaintiffs’ own narrative that defendants, as well as all 57,731 Jackson Township residents, are anti-Semitic hate-mongers,” according to the boards’ brief.
“These counts reflect a thinly veiled effort by plaintiff to control the public’s opinion for the purpose of causing defendants unfair prejudice,” the brief stated.
Sean D. Gertner of Gertner & Gertner LLC, representing the two boards, said on Thursday that “individual governmental actors have obligations that they must fulfill, and it’s certainly our position that no action of any member or professional associated with Jackson Township was done with any discriminatory intent or animus.”