This past Thursday night, the New Jersey town of Mahwah rescinded a controversial ordinance restricting the use of its parks and playgrounds exclusively to local residents. For months, the township of Mahwah has been stoked in controversy over new laws, which are allegedly targeting Orthodox Jews. Following the overcrowding of local parks, heated meetings were held and an ordinance was set to ban “out-of-state residents” from using local parks. In October, the state of NJ and state Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino along with a Jewish group, sued the township.
The suit sought to reclaim over $3.4 million in state grants made to the town from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the purchase and maintenance of its parks. The land acquired through a state program may not restrict use based on religion or residency, said the attorney general’s office. The lawsuit depicted the town’s ban as resembling the “1950s-era white flight suburbanites” who wanted to keep African Americans out of their neighborhoods. Last month, the case was moved to the federal U.S. District Court in Newark from state Superior Court in Bergen County. AG Porrino has said that the ordinance was made based on an “archaic, fear-driven and discriminatory mindset” and conveys a “hateful message.”
As reported by VIN News, in a 6-1 vote the township repealed its earlier measure to ban non-residents from the parks. The only dissenting vote on Thursday, came from Councilman Steve Sbarra, who did not comment for the story. The town’s attorney said the lawsuit cost them approximately $100,000. It has not yet been established how the vote will impact the settlement of the case. In an emailed statement late Thursday, state Attorney General Porrino wrote, “Our message to local officials in other towns who may be plotting to engage in similar attempts to illegally exclude, is the same: We will hold you accountable as well.”
The town of Mahwah, which is close in proximity to NYC, has seemingly been trying to find ways to slow down the influx of Orthodox Jews into their neighborhood. First, the town had banned the town eruv, or the pvc pipes attached to the telephone poles which allow orthodox Jews to travel on Shabbat. In August, the Bergen Rockland Eruv Association and two Rockland County residents also sued the township of Mahwah for that ban. Earlier this month, the council similarly reversed part of the sign ordinance which threatened to take down and set fines for erecting the eruv.
By: Benyamin Davidsons