NJ.com: Town facing discrimination lawsuit from Orthodox Jewish population is destroying documents, group alleges
A nationwide Orthodox Jewish group says Jackson Township has destroyed documents relevant to a federal discrimination suit asserting that local laws are intended to discourage growth of the township’s Orthodox community.
The lawsuit, which is pending U.S. District Court in New Jersey, was filed against Jackson in 2017 by Agudath Israel in America, a Manhattan-based organization that advocates for the rights of Orthodox Jews. The suit asserts that the township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, by voting to eliminate dormitories as a permitted use under local zoning rules, and by barring eruvs — markers designating areas where Orthodox Jews can perform tasks otherwise prohibited by their faith on the Sabbath.
“The purpose of these ordinances is to target the Orthodox Jewish community, to prevent that community from being able to provide the necessary educational institutions for its youth, and to discourage that community from relocating to and residing in the township,” stated papers filed April 12 in a motion asking a judge to prohibit the township from destroying any more documents.
“Plaintiffs have learned that defendant has taken action to destroy documents relating to this lawsuit while this lawsuit has been pending and as recently as March 6, 2019,” added the motion, which was previously reported by Jackson Leaks.
Jackson Township Hall was closed Friday, when Christians celebrate Good Friday ahead of Easter Sunday, and the mayor, township attorney and special council for religious-based litigation did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.
Friday also marks the start of the week-long Passover celebration, and the head of New Jersey’s chapter of Agudath Israel, Rabbi Avi Schnall, did not respond to requests for comment. The organization’s lawyers in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. also did not respond.
It was unclear whether a judge had ruled on Agudath’s motion as of Friday, when the federal courts were also closed.
Litigation involving questions of religious freedom have become increasingly common in Ocean County as the needs and customs of the area’s rapidly growing Orthodox Jewish community have bumped up against local laws and fueled tensions among longtime residents. While the county’s Orthodox community has been centered around Lakewood, its growth has extended to neighboring communities.
Last month, for example, Ocean Township appeared to resolve a protracted battle to keep a residential yeshiva from reopening in a residential neighborhood by purchasing the property for $2 million, only after settling a discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff — the school’s would-be operator — was paid $750,000.