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State Sues Mahwah Claiming New Ordinances Illegally Target Orthodox Jews

MAHWAH, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New Jersey has sued a town over two recent ordinances that the state says illegally targeted the Jewish community from nearby New York.

The lawsuit announced Tuesday against Mahwah and its township council likens the conduct of town officials to the "1950s-era white flight suburbanites'' who sought to keep African-Americans out of their neighborhoods.

"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," said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino. "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. Of course, in this case we allege the target of the small-minded bias is not African-Americans, but Orthodox Jews. Nonetheless, the hateful message is the same."

The lawsuit seeks the return of more than $3.4 million in state grants and an injunction blocking the ordinances.

One measure limits the use of a public park to state residents. The suit suggests the goal was to keep out religious Jews from neighboring Rockland County.

When one resident expressed concern her mother wouldn't be able to take her own grandchildren into the park, Council President Robert Hermansen reportedly told her it wouldn't affect her, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

Mahwah's independent Mayor Bill Laforet blames Hermansen for the law.

"His race bantering has now bitten him on the back," Laforet said.

The council president told CBS2 last month that the ban is not meant to target any specific group, claiming it's in response to complaints of people with New York license plates taking over parks. He added that Mahwah taxpayers pay for the park's upkeep and should get priority use.

The second ordinance effectively bans the building of an eruv, a religious boundary made up of white plastic piping on utility poles. In recent months, several pipes had been vandalized, prompting police to launch hate crime investigations.

Laforet said Tuesday that he and the town's police chief had warned council members about the consequences they and the town could face.

"I repeatedly warned the council of these consequences for months... for doing so Council President Robert Hermansen wanted me removed from office," Laforet told 1010 WINS.

Laforest said Mahwah is a "diverse, tolerant and welcoming community."

But Hermansen said it was actually the mayor who came up with the law. He said the council asked the attorney general how to fix the law, but the office declined.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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