Has Mahwah stepped back from the brink?
Last week it repealed one ordinance and withdrew another; the state of New Jersey had challenged both of them as being discriminatory for targeting Orthodox Jews.
Ordinance 1806 had closed town parks to non-residents. Even before it came into effect, Mahwah residents had begun to call their local police to report chasidic Jews using their parks. This led the chief of police to approach Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, who warned that the law was discriminatory and illegal. And it led to a lawsuit from State Attorney General Christopher Porrino seeking to recover more than $3 million of state funds used for township parks.
Mr. Porrino will be leaving office soon. But the successor designated by the incoming Murphy administration is none other than Mr. Grewal.
In addition to repealing ordinance 1806, the council rescinded a proposed ordinance that would have prohibited posting “other matter” on utility poles. That “other matter” would have included the white PVC pipes used to demarcate the eruv. The council also resolved not to pass a similar ordinance in the future.
The action by Mahwah’s township council came two weeks after the council approved up to $275,000 in legal expenditures. In addition to defending the suit from the state, it is defending a suit filed by New York State residents saying that Mahwah’s refusal to allow the expansion of the Monsey eruv into Mahwah is a violation of their constitutional rights. (Monsey is just over the state line from Mahwah.)
At last week’s Mahwah Township meeting, council members heard from people who welcomed a step back from the legal battle — and those who argued that the money allocated so far was barely the price of two lattes for each township resident, and a worthwhile investment in preserving the township’s way of life.
Ninety or so miles south, Jackson Township in Ocean County is negotiating a settlement with Agudath Israel of America. The Orthodox group had sued Jackson after it passed ordinances that would bar dormitories. (The Orthodox community centered around Lakewood often sends its sons to boarding yeshivas in the area, so the ban on dormitories in Jackson would affect them.)
Jackson’s ordinances also blocked the erection of an eruv.
A proposed resolution before the Jackson council specifically references “exorbitant legal fees” as a reason for the settlement.
The New Jersey attorney general and the federation Department of Justice have begun investigating Jackson for possible civil rights violations.
And the effort to ban yeshiva dormitories in Jackson was struck a blow when the town of Pomona, in Rockland County, New York, lost a multiyear, multimillion dollar court battle to defend a similar ordinance. A federal judge ruled that “Pomona’s zoning scheme is impermissible pursuant to New York law because its exclusionary scheme was enacted for an improper, discriminatory purpose and, consequently, is invalid.”
The lead counsel for Pomona, Marci Hamilton, who specializes in church/state issues, also is counsel for Upper Saddle River in its eruv litigation. Judge John Michael Vazquez, who is overseeing the three eruv cases in federal court in Newark, has scheduled oral argument over the Upper Saddle River case for January 9.