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Mahwah Settles State Lawsuit Charging Township With Discriminating Against Orthodox Jews

Eruv lechis Photo Credit: Lauren Kidd Ferguson
Page 1 of the Township Council's statement Photo Credit: Robert Hermansen
Page 2 of the Township Council's statement Photo Credit: Robert Hermansen
Page 3 of the Township Council's statement Photo Credit: Robert Hermansen

Mahwah has settled a lawsuit brought by state authorities accusing the township of discriminating against Orthodox Jews primarily from Rockland County.

A $350,000 payment from the town won’t have to be made if it can go four years without adopting any future ordinances “that impose similar, discriminatory restrictions,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.

Grewal's predecessor, Acting Attorney General Christopher Porrino, brought the suit last year after the Township Council adopted what his office said were two discriminatory ordinances -- one banning non-residents from using Mahwah’s public parks, the other banning the posting of eruv “lechis” on utility poles in town.

For the next four years, the township “must provide the Division on Civil Rights at least 30 days advance notice of any vote on a proposed ordinance affecting public access to its parks and recreational facilities,” Grewal said.

“The same 30-day advance reporting obligation applies to any ordinance affecting placement of ‘signs, devices or any material whatsoever’ on utility poles located within Mahwah Township,” he said.

The settlement also includes a number of record-keeping requirements for the Township over the next four years, including creating and maintaining a file of all complaints and reports it receives about the use of the township’s parks and recreational facilities.

The Township must file quarterly reports on the complaints and what was done in response under the settlement, said Grewal, a former Bergen County prosecutor.

Township officials also agreed to investigate all incidents of material damage to the eruvs as “potential criminal acts of vandalism” unless there is good cause to blame the “weather or accidental contact.”

Mahwah repealed the two ordinances cited in the state’s original complaint and agreed not to do it again as part of the agreement, which must be approved by a judge.

State authorities accused township officials of approving the unlawful ordinances “an effort to stave off a feared influx of Orthodox Jewish persons from outside New Jersey” – particularly a purported “infiltration” from neighboring Rockland County.

Township Council members were “influenced largely by vocal anti-Orthodox-Jewish sentiment expressed by some residents at public meetings and on social media,” state authorities said.

The parks ordinance violated the terms of Green Acres grant funding provided to the township for many years, Grewal noted.

As for the eruv ordinance, the attorney general said:

“[D]espite approval of the posting of lechis on its utility poles in Mahwah by Orange & Rockland Utilities -- and despite the township having struck a formal agreement to ensure security and traffic control by Mahwah Police in May 2017 while the posting work went on – the Township Council forged ahead in July 2017 and approved an illegal amendment to its sign ordinance effectively banning lechis on utility poles.

“As amended, the sign ordinance – which previously banned simply ‘signs’ on utility poles -- included expanded language prohibiting the posting of ‘any device or other matter’ not only on utility poles, but also on shade trees, lamp posts, curbstones, sidewalks, or upon any public structure or building in Mahwah.”

That, he said, was unlawful.

Council President Robert Hermansen provided the council's response to the settlement of the announcement with photos of a statement ( above ).

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