Jackson Councilman Being Sued for Religious Harassment and Intimidation

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JACKSON-An Orthodox Jewish resident of Jackson has filed a lawsuit against the township and an elected official, Councilman Robert Nixon.   The case was filed on behalf of Mr. Isaac Tawil, of Pitney Lane in Jackson by the Law Offices of Michael Botton out of Belmar.

In the lawsuit, Tawil, a practicing Orthodox Jewish resident who hosts a neighborhood prayer group at his home claims the township of Jackson has been harassing him for doing so. According to his faith, Tawil said he must pray three times a day and when possible with a quorum of at least ten other members of his faith.

According to Orthodox Jewish customs, practicing members of the religion are not allowed to operate machinery or drive motor vehicles during the Sabbath, which is from sundown on Friday to Sundown on Saturday each weekend.

As there are no synagogues within walking distance for Tawil and his neighbors, he hosts a private prayer group each weekend at his Pitney Lane home.

Tawil said his prayer group lasts for one hour on Friday evenings, two and a half hours on Saturday morning and short twenty-minute service before sundown on Saturday. He’s claiming Nixon and the township has engaged in harassing and intimidating behavior.

He is suing the township and Councilman Nixon for trying to prevent him from running the prayer group.   According to the lawsuit, Tawil claims Nixon, through his official office as a councilman of Jackson Township directed township zoning officers to stake out his home during the Sabbath during a nearly year-long period.  Tawil claims on several occasions, township code enforcement officers would observe his guests entering and leaving his home for prayer services.

After the alleged stakeouts, township code officials reported they found no violations of township code at Tawill’s residence.

“The repeated presence of these officers had a chilling effect,” Tawill’s attorney said. “was intimidating and became a form of harassment.”   Even after the code enforcement department reported no violations, Tawill claims Nixon ordered township personnel to continue investigating, a process he claims lasted from June 2016 through January 2017.

Tawil alleges Nixon directed code enforcement to intimidate and harass his guests and attempted to prevent Tawil of his right to pray in his own home. Tawill claims Nixon and the township violated his 14th Amendment rights.    Tawill said the enforcement detail caused him physical, mental and emotional injury.

According to documents released prior by the township, Business Administrator Helene Schlegel who represents Mayor Michael Reina, advised Nixon and the code enforcement officers to end the operation at Tawil’s home.

In June of 2016, Nixon requested Jackson code enforcement to “keep an eye” on Tawil’s home after complaints from residents about cars parked in the driveway on Friday nights and Saturdays.   Nixon reported 14 cars parked in Tawill’s large circular driveway, none on the township roadway or right of way.

Schlegel pleaded with Nixon and code enforcement officers to cease their activities, saying the town was expending resources unnecessarily each weekend chasing complaints made by the same small handful of residents, who didn’t even live in Tawil’s neighborhood.

At this time, Tawil’s lawsuit is against Nixon and the township code enforcement officers, but a source close to the lawsuit said it could be expanded to include those individuals who made repeated complaints to the township about his prayer meetings.

A request for comment to Nixon and Schlegel has been made, but as of yet, no official response has been provided by the township regarding this lawsuit.