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The U.S. Department of Justice is now alleging that Jackson Township officials are not in compliance with certain terms of their Settlement Agreement with the DOJ, FAA News has learned.

Here is a shortened version of the background story:

On March 14, 2017, Jackson Township's Council adopted ordinances 03-17 and 04-17 which majorly restricted private schools, and banned dormitories, respectively.

On May 12, 2020, the council introduced ordinance 05-20 to repeal ordinance 03-17, and ordinance 06-20 to repeal ordinance 04-17.

A mere two weeks later, on May 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Jackson Township and its planning board alleging they "violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by targeting the Orthodox Jewish community through zoning ordinances restricting religious schools and barring religious boarding schools."

(RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations.)

The complaint, filed in the District of New Jersey, alleged that the township passed ordinances 03-17 and 04-17, and the planning board applied those ordinances in a manner that discriminated against the Orthodox Jewish community. Both ordinances expressly prohibit dormitories throughout Jackson, making it impossible for religious boarding schools such as Orthodox Jewish yeshivas to operate there. Although Jackson passed these ordinances to prevent dormitories anywhere in Jackson, the planning board has since approved, without requiring a variance, the plans for two nonreligious projects with dormitory-type housing.

The complaint further alleged that the township and planning board enacted the ordinances against a backdrop of extreme animus by some Jackson residents and township decision makers toward the Orthodox Jewish community and a movement by residents to keep Orthodox Jewish individuals from settling in Jackson. The complaint alleges that the township and planning board’s actions towards the Orthodox Jewish community violate RLUIPA’s non-discrimination and equal terms provisions, as well as the FHA.

On May 26, 2020, the council only adopted Ordinance 05-20. They tabled voting on Ordinance 06-20, effectively giving a green light for the litigation to continue.

After dragging things out in court for 2 full years, on June 15, 2022, Jackson Township and the Justice Department entered into a Consent Decree whereby they agreed to settle the lawsuit by Jackson Township repealing the remaining active discriminatory 03-17 ordinance and "replace it with an ordinance that will allow religious elementary and secondary schools, religious higher learning institutions and religious residential schools in numerous residential and other zoning districts, and permitting associated housing such as dormitories as an accessory to private, parochial, and public schools in certain zoning districts."

The consent order further requires Jackson Township to, within sixty days of the Order’s entry date, implement certain procedures to ensure notice is provided to the public of this Order and its requirements. This includes that, upon receipt of an application or inquiry about a zoning or land use determination concerning a property intended or used for religious purposes, the Township Council and land use boards shall provide to the applicant or the person inquiring a notice that conforms in content to a specific form notice.

Finally, the consent order requires the Township to train its officials and employees on the requirements of RLUIPA and the FHA, establish a procedure for receiving and resolving RLUIPA and FHA complaints, pay a civil penalty of $45,000, and pay $150,000 into a settlement fund from which aggrieved persons can seek payment.

The Consent Order was signed and announced by both parties on June 15, 2022. It was signed by a judge on July 7, 2022.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Township is in the process of adopting the Ordinance as required under the Consent Decree, as the Planning Board formally adopted a Master Plan Amendment Report which recommends that the Township adopt the Ordinance.

Philip R. Sellinger, United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division have recently written to U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp, alleging that the Township has not fulfilled certain obligations under the Consent Decree which are now overdue, including; 1) implementation of the complaint procedure; and; 2) completion of training and signed statements of trainees.

When asked at this week's Township Council meeting for comment, the Township's RLUIPA attorney Brett Pohlman categorically denied the Justice Department's allegations. He did not provide any explanation as to why the Justice Department apparently does not agree with his assertions. Curiously, the Township has not yet formally responded in court to this allegation.

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1 comment:

ab said...

How did Toms River get away with a much more lenient settlement offer with the Justice dept. Because Aguda/Avi Schnall refused to help Chabad.