Feds lawsuit says Toms River must address religious needs of Orthodox Jews (Opinion)
Toms River is finally being painted into a corner. They’ve tried every which way to keep the burgeoning Orthodox Jewish community from “taking over the town,” but there are just so many ways you can legally keep people out of a town in the good old US of A.
First, they began a campaign to try to convince people not to sell their homes to Orthodox Jews, claiming that people who knocked on their door offering huge sums of money for their homes were “blockbusting.” I wish somebody would "blockbust" me and pay me 50% to 60% more than my house is actually worth, but that’s just me.
Then, spurious zoning laws were passed that seemed less about thwarting over-development as officials claimed, and more about thwarting the Orthodox Jews moving in. First, the state got involved, with pressure being put upon Toms River and its neighbor, Jackson, to stand down. No matter how badly you wish your neighborhood wouldn’t be inundated with a certain group, you have little control over that in a free society.
But once the feds got involved, all hell broke loose. There were denials, resignations, turmoil, and infighting amongst town fathers. According to an article on Shorebeat.com, the federal government said it would sue Toms River by Sept. 29 if the township did not enter into pre-litigation negotiations over what it called zoning regulations that “unreasonably limit” or “substantially burden religious exercise.”
In a letter to Toms River officials, from U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito and several colleagues, including those from the Civil Rights Division in Washington, said that any negotiations must “address the religious views of Orthdox Jews.” According to the same article, after the Sept. 29 deadline passed, Toms River officials elected to sit down and negotiate with the Department of Justice.
Smart move. There were many mixed messages that town officials would give their constituents, veiled comments which covertly agreed, or at least implied, that the influx of Orthodox Jews was in fact “a problem,” while at the same time denying that any of their “zoning” laws were meant to stop that influx.
It’s said that the federal government doesn’t pursue a case unless it knows for sure it can win. Toms River officials were smart to capitulate to the feds in this because the charade that they were presumably pulling off in local government had no shot with the feds. They apparently saw right through the “this is about overdevelopment!” trope. There’s no way you’re going to fool the federal government. They couldn’t have won. They had to give in.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Judi Franco. Any opinions expressed are Judi's own.