The Jackson Township administrator slammed Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Wednesday for surprising them with a lawsuit alleging that municipality discriminated against Orthodox Jews by creating and enforcing zoning laws to discourage them from moving there.
“Nearly a year ago the Township of Jackson provided thousands of documents to the state in response to their requests for information. The Township went out of its way to provide whatever they asked for and we have not heard from them since,” said Terrence Wall, the township administrator. “Instead, we learn that they simply filed suit and issued a press release.”
Grewal’s civil rights lawsuit alleges that Jackson officials sought to placate local fears over the growing Orthodox community by conveying hate and fear on social media.
Wall complained that municipality didn’t have a chance to work out any solution prior to Grewal filing his lawsuit.
“Before one level of government decides to sue another, we would think it would be in the best interests of the taxpayers for the parties to at least sit down and attempt to resolve any issues or review any facts which may be in dispute,” Wall stated. “For whatever reason the state chose not to do so here. Now, both the state and local taxpayers will be forced to pay the costs of litigation.”
Mayor Michael Reina is named in the lawsuit, along with the township council and the planning and zoning boards.
“Since around 2015, a vocal group of Jackson residents have complained to the township about the number of Orthodox Jews moving to Jackson. These resident complaints often expressed a generalized animus against Orthodox Jewish people, culture, and religious practice,” the lawsuit alleges. “Residents wrote to Township officials raising alarm about an “extremist religious group” seeking to “take over our town” and “destroy our neighborhoods.” Residents amplified these grievances through social media with hateful rhetoric, saying that “the gang war has begun” and “[w]e need to get rid of them like Hitler did.”
Several Jackson officials allegedly sympathized with residents’ frustration and concern that Jackson was “becoming a subdivision of Lakewood,” the compliant says.
Officials developed a plan to pass and enforce local zoning ordinances that might dissuade Orthodox Jews from living in Jackson because of challenges to the observance of their religion, court records show.
In the complaint, the state alleges that former Zoning Board of Adjustment member John Burrows used Facebook to attack Orthodox Jews and call for action against them.
“He called Orthodox Jews “filthy f’ing cockroaches” and wondered what to do about ‘the scourge of the cockroaches from the east,” the complaint noted, referring to Lakewood being directly east of Jackson.
According to the complaint, Burrows “bemoaned politicians beholden to ‘the mischievous will of the Lakewood cult,’ and “beg[ged]” residents ‘to confront or accost the council members’ to ‘quell’ the ‘tsunami of orthodoxy that is mounting at the border.”
“He warned that Orthodox Jews ‘will only destroy what we know as Jackson and make it an extension of Lakewood,’ and that ‘[t]hey are on target for a repeat of the 1930s,’” court records show.
Wall said that Jackson Township “will defend itself appropriately.”