Jackson Township, New Jersey voted on Tuesday at a council meeting to pass the first reading of an ordinance change to make is easier for the Orthodox Jews living in the town to build synagogues and mikvahs.
The measure was passed unanimously, according to Lakewood Alerts.
Previously, Jewish communities in the town wanting to build synagogues had to go through major hurdles, including purchasing a property that was a minimum of two acres on which to build. The stringent regulations had forced most Jews in the township to hold services in private residences.
The ordinance change allows for the minimum property requirement to be reduced to 1 acre in most parts of the township, with only half an acre required in some areas.
According to Lakewood Alerts, “This ordinance is perhaps the most pro-Orthodox Jewish move the township has ever made, and comes after years of work by local [community activists] to push this plan forward.”
Agudath Israel of America”s New Jersey office praised the vote by the council lowering the zoning requirements.
“Tonight”s vote will finally provide worshippers in Jackson Township, including Orthodox Jewish residents, the ability to pray in houses of worship without an unrealistic burden placed on them by the municipality,” they told Yeshiva World News.
In June 2022, the federal Justice Department settled a lawsuit it brought against Jackson Township for allegedly passing discriminatory zoning ordinances targeting Orthodox Jews.
The DOJ announced it had reached an agreement with Jackson Township and the Jackson Planning Board over allegations that in 2017 it violated the land use and fair housing rights of the Orthodox community by passing a set of zoning ordinances that intentionally targeted observant Jews by prohibiting religious schools and dormitories, which made it difficult for members of the community to continue living in the area.
The complaint alleged that the ordinance”s intent was to block Orthodox Jews form opening religious schools in the town, which would discourage members of the community from living or moving to Jackson Township.
The consent order requires Jackson Township to repeal the zoning ordinances and replace them with an ordinance that will enable the opening of religious schools, to train its staff in the use of RLUIPA and the Fair Housing Act, to pay a civil penalty of $45,000, and to create a $150,000 settlement fund from which those targeted by the ordinances can seek funds.
In April 2021, a separate civil rights lawsuit was filed by the attorney general of New Jersey alleging that township officials violated anti-discrimination law by using zoning powers to deter Orthodox Jews from practicing their religion in the town.