Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hamodia:Lawsuit Claims Jackson’s Anti-School Construction Rule Motivated by Bias

Hamodia by Mordechai Wincorn

LAKEWOOD - Less than two months after Jackson Township enacted an effective ban on the construction of schools and dormitories, Agudath Israel of America and a property firm have filed a lawsuit arguing that the decision was motivated by “discriminatory animus” to the increasing presence of Orthodox Jews in towns surrounding Lakewood.

In March, a scheduled vote on the ban was delayed after over 150 Orthodox Jackson residents arrived at the meeting to voice their opposition. Yet, a week later, it was passed by the town council amid vociferous claims from its president, Barry Calogero, that the rule “is not against any race or religion” and solely meant to “reduce suburban sprawl and limit unwanted overdevelopment.”

“Orthodox Jews, like any other people, have the basic right, protected by federal law, to live where they please,” said Rabbi Avi Schnall, Agudath’s New Jersey Office director. “Local laws intended to keep people out of an area or township based on religion or ethnicity violate federal law. Orthodox Jews have the right to open schools, build houses of worship, and develop businesses, just like any other group, and this essential value of freedom of religion, on which America was founded, is being denied.”

The brief asserts that the ban is preventing Jackson’s growing Orthodox community from building the educational facilities they need in the town they live in and presents pages of statements from council members and residents intended to prove the ban is chiefly motivated by bias.

Jean L. Cipriani, Jackson’s attorney, told Hamodia that she had not yet reviewed the brief and that the “township does not comment on pending litigation.”

Rabbi Schnall told Hamodia that the legal action was taken as a last resort, but was necessary to protect the basic rights of Jackson’s Orthodox community.

“From day one, we tried to establish a diplomatic relationship with the leadership in Jackson, but we were shut down,” he said. “We would have loved for them to come to the table and work out our differences, but they refused and then the ban got passed. People should just go on living in a town that denies them their basic religious rights? We have no choice but to fight it.”

Jackson is currently home to around 400 Orthodox families, and the community is constantly growing.

As more families move to towns surrounding Lakewood, the community had hoped that those areas would be able to provide space for additional schools that the population growth will demand.

The Jackson ordinance forbids the construction of dormitories, usually associated with yeshivah high schools. It does not forbid the construction of schools without living facilities outright, but restricts them to three small, non-residential zones that have very little undeveloped land.

The suit claims that the ban violates The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a 2000 bill focused on preventing government from placing “substantial burdens on the free exercise of religion,” particularly as it pertains to zoning laws and prisoners, as well as several other federal non-discrimination laws.

The brief backs up its claim by citing several examples of anti-Orthodox sentiment expressed at meetings regarding the ordinance and noting that many were met with loud applause as well as an attempt by the town council’s legal advisor to shut down a resident whose comments were implying that the ban was meant to target “a particular group.”

In addition, it draws on statements made in other forums regarding what was then a pending measure, including “all of your problems only stem from the ultra-religious! The Hassidics and ultra-Orthodox!”

In an attempt to show further evidence of the council’s motivation, the lawsuit recounts several events and statements made by its members in recent years regarding the Orthodox community.

Last summer, then council president Robert Nixon caused a minor stir over comments that the influx was “reprehensible,” and led the town in asking federal and state officials for an investigation of the role of an Agudath Israel leader in encouraging Orthodox families to move to Jackson. Authorities saw no merit in the request and no investigation took place.

Mr. Nixon later said that this and other comments had been taken out of context and told Hamodia that the town’s actions were merely meant to combat “aggressive real estate agent tactics” and to ensure for “quality of life” matters.

This is not the first time that dormitory construction has become a point of contention between the Orthodox community and residents of areas surrounding Lakewood. Last year, a federal appellate court overturned a decision by Ocean Township to block construction by Yeshivah Naos Yaakov. The yeshivah had also argued that its denial was based on religious animus, supported by a plethora of anti-Jewish statements found on the website of a group opposing the construction.

Amid the debate over Jackson’s present ordinance, attorney Robert Greene, whose firm Storzer and Greene specializes in cases involving religious discrimination in land use and represented Naos Yaakov, wrote in a letter that the township should consider itself placed on notice that its “heavy-handed attempt” to target a particular population could be legally challenged.”

The firm is now representing the plaintiffs against Jackson.


  1. Let's get this out there first and that is that prejudice exists and is ugly. The meanest voices are usually the loudest, but they never represent any town as a whole, or even the majority. It is wrong to label a whole town or a council as prejudiced for what is posted online. We do not want that for our community, so do not do it another.

  2. Harold HerskowitzMay 11, 2017 at 9:03 PM

    I don't really think the discussion about the dormitory rule should be about whether it was anti Semitic or not. It makes no sense from a planning perspective. Jewish families are moving to Jackson as they escape the irresponsible development in Lakewood and it's effect on quality of life. Over 500 orthodox families have moved to Jackson in a short period of time. That number will inevitably climb and the young families will have high school age boys. Those boys will need Jewish high schools to attend. If you make them travel to Lakewood, you will not only have to pay their busing ,but you will be stuck behind those buses at 10 o'clock every evening . Jackson can use the orthodox invasion to its benefit by planning correctly, and gaining as much as possible, without ruining their quality of life, from residents that will not use their public school system while paying their share in property taxes.

    1. I agree, the conversation should be about the wisdom in this sort of town planning. Agudah should be presented how the town can benefit, other than by avoiding lawsuits, and can still protect quality of life.

      Your last statement however implies that by the boys not going to the public schools that no money is used from the education budget, which based on the aforementioned bussing cost, is not true. At around $800 aid-in-lieu, it does not take many children to completely consume the school portion of the property taxes, which are lower in Jackson than in Lakewood. At which point that "not-use" argument collapses.

    2. Harold HerskowitzMay 12, 2017 at 7:34 AM

      That is why they need to make sure there are schools built within walking distance to new developments. They have more than enough land to accommodate and they can make millions if planned correctly. I agree the busing kills the school portion of the tax. But if it's on new housing that never existed and paid that tax before and very few kids get bused ,it's a win . As Jews take up old homes that paid school tax and eat up the tax with busing costs, the district will lose out, correct.
      How much of mandated busing costs are paid by the state?

  3. What about what happened in WG? That's not the whole WG either. Kids don't have seats in shul etc

  4. Dear Agudah,
    Can you please help out residents living at the Westgate development in Lakewood. There is a desperate need for shuls the current shuls are all packed to the rafters. Yet there is a self appointed vaad who won't allow shuls to build or expand. They only want 1 above ground shul that services them.
    Father's and children have no set place to daven due to lack of room. The Rabbonim have no power and are scared to stand up to a few bullies who made it their life mission to deny other shuls. This can not go on Please help.

  5. They should build a Large Cheder and Bais Yackov next to westgate for the Five Thousand Children that live there so that they should not have to be bused to the other end of town on New Hampshire avenue . They should also build a Swimming pool in or near wetgate for the children and adults of westgate

    1. who is "they", and why do you think "they" should do everything for you?

  6. Most people in Lakewood assume that there is a mysterious vaad of people with money who just build schools as needed. Well there is no vaad and there is no money and we all teky on private people to make new schools and raise the money. So when you wonder why there is no space in the schools for everybody ,that is why.

  7. They mean the residents of westgate instead of paying tuition to send thier children to schools on new hampshire ave they should use the money to build a school in their neighborhood also if they build a swimming pool they will be able to vacation the summer month in westgate

  8. i dont live in westgate i was suggesting that "they" the people of westgate should make it easier on themselves and their children by building the schools they need in the proximaty of their side of town just some good wholesome advice

  9. Right. So the people of Westgate should donate 20 million dollars to build 2 big new school buildings and then come up with more millions to cover the deficit every year.