Representatives of a proposed 96-student Yeshiva in Ocean Township, N.J are suing the township and the Zoning Board of Adjustment for rejecting the proposal. Filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court, the 79 page complaint alleges that the Zoning Board’s denial constitutes a violation of the 1st and 14th Amendments, relating to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and Fair Housing Act, respectively.
Religious discrimination is also a factor in the lawsuit, with the Yeshiva’s representatives claiming that local residents have “hostility and animus to Orthodox Jews.” and that Ocean Townships’s zoning laws are not accommodating Orthodox schools.
The township has denied such charges.
“As far as I’m concerned, the denial was a procedural denial and the Board wasn’t given an opportunity to hear the entire case and make a determination on the merits,” township attorney Martin J. Arbus said.
Filed in 2014 by Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov in 2014, the application called for the restructuring of a local Jewish day school with 101 students into a yeshiva for students between 18-22. Ocean Township residents strongly resisted the proposal, prompting the Zoning Board to deny the application on Dec. 1, after nine public hearings.
The yeshiva’s representatives maintain that the opposition was fueled, at least partially, by “unsubstantiated fears of, and prejudice against, Orthodox Jewish men.” A petition on Change.org was pointed to as evidence, with comments such as “I owned property in Lakewood NJ for 24 years. “Orthodox Jewish landlords made life a living hell for me there! I would hate to see this repeated in Ocean!”
“There are plenty of other places for radical religious schools,” another commenter stated.
At the same time, residents also complained about noise pollution and traffic flow.
According to the lawsuit, “This pattern of organized opposition to yeshiva applications demonstrates significant hostility against Orthodox Jewish land uses by Ocean Township residents.”
The Yeshiva Gedola application is the third attempt to establish a yeshiva in Ocean Township. The previous two applications, filed in 2010, were similarly denied in the face of “community resistance.”
“This is bigotry masked as a zoning hearing, pure and simple,” Roman P. Storzer, an attorney representing the applicants, stated. “The situation that the Yeshiva has faced here is exactly why Congress decided that RLUIPA’s protections are necessary.”