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AG Suit Charges Mahwah With Discriminating Against Orthodox Jews

The Attorney General's Office filed suit against the Mahwah Township Council Tuesday.
The Attorney General's Office filed suit against the Mahwah Township Council Tuesday. Photo Credit: Lauren Kidd Ferguson

MAHWAH, N.J. – In an effort to stave off a feared influx of Orthodox Jews from New York, Mahwah Township introduced a pair of unlawfully discriminatory ordinances, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office alleges in a complaint filed in Bergen County Superior Court Tuesday.

The nine-count complaint filed against the Township of Mahwah and the Mahwah Township Council seeks the return of more than $3.4 million in state Green Acres funds awarded to the township, as well as injunctions blocking the two ordinances alleged to be discriminatory.

At issue are an ordinance that went into effect at the end of July, limiting the use of the township’s recreational facilities to state residents, and an ordinance amendment that was introduced but not passed that would have effectively banned the posting on utility poles of plastic strips called “lechis” that denote the boundaries of an eruv used by Sabbath-observant Orthodox Jews, the state alleges.

The complaint charges that the township council, influenced largely by vocal anti-Orthodox-Jewish sentiment expressed by some residents at public meetings and on social media, engaged in unlawful discrimination aimed at halting an unwanted “infiltration” by Orthodox Jews.

“This is an extensive complaint that lays out a variety of serious allegations and a number of legal theories, but the bottom line is very simple -- the township council in Mahwah heard the angry, fear-driven voices of bigotry and acted to appease those voices,” Attorney General Porrino said in a statement.

Mahwah Mayor William Laforet said in a statement Tuesday that for months he and Police Chief James Batelli repeatedly warned the council of the consequences of the ordinances.

“It has been a lonely and painful struggle for me and my family these past several months, having to deal with a reckless and oblivious council president, Rob Hermansen. He personally led his council mates to this action by the state's highest law enforcement official, and is most accountable.His race-baiting bantering has now bitten him back,” Laforet said.

“I am sorrowed by the loss of reputation for Mahwah which is as diverse, tolerant and welcoming a community that you can find in NJ,” the mayor said.

Hermansen could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

The complaint alleges that both ordinances represent abuses of municipal power by the Mahwah Township Council, in violation of the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“In addition to being on the wrong side of history, the conduct of Mahwah’s township council is legally wrong, and we intend to hold them accountable for it,” Porrino said. “To think that there are local governments here in New Jersey, in 2017, making laws on the basis of some archaic, fear-driven and discriminatory mindset, is deeply disappointing and shocking to many, but it is exactly what we are alleging in this case.”

To read the complaint, CLICK HERE .

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