Last Friday, the Ramapough Lenape Nation and the Township of Mahwah reached a settlement in all their pending lawsuits. The Ramapough’s use of their land for religious and cultural purposes had prompted substantial fines and several lawsuits, including requests by Mahwah and the neighboring Ramapo Hunt & Polo Club homeowners association for injunctions constraining the Ramapough’s use of the land and a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Ramapough for racial and religious discrimination.
The settlement signed last Friday with Mahwah dismisses all fines levied and summonses issued to date, which had run to the millions of dollars, acknowledges the Ramapough may continue to have gatherings and conduct religious activity on their land, and ensures that Mahwah will not seek to remove existing religious items on the land.
No settlement was reached with the Hunt & Polo Club. Consolidated New Jersey state court cases filed by Mahwah and the Hunt & Polo Club requesting an injunction that would have prohibited the Ramapough from using their land for religious practice went to trial last month with only the Hunt & Polo Club as plaintiff after the township dismissed its case as part of the agreement. The Hunt & Polo Club lost that case and have not taken an appeal. The Ramapough’s civil rights claim against the Hunt & Polo Club remains pending in federal court and is not affected by the settlement.
“We give thanks to all of our friends and allies and especially to all of the wonderful legal people who came in unity in this hour of darkness to make it possible for the Ramapough to once again come before the creator in prayer, in the daylight of freedom without the fear that had cloaked our families and children for the past three years,” said Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lenape Nation Tribe.
The Ramapough Lenape Nation are descendants of the original people of the Ramapo Mountains, and many of them reside in the village of Mahwah, which means “meeting place” in their language. The Ramapough own a parcel of land in Mahwah which is a sacred site where they have conducted prayer and community cultural assemblies for centuries. But more recently, zoning restrictions, including what the Ramapough had argued was selective use of fines and permit requirements, had impaired those practices. The settlement reached last week makes clear that the Ramapough may continue to use their land, as they have been, for religious purposes without zoning limitations or fines.
“We are thrilled that the Ramapough and the Township of Mahwah have come to a settlement that respects the Ramapough’s fundamental rights,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “The legal team can now focus all our attention on holding the Polo Club accountable for their racist harassment and conspiracy to deny the Ramapough use of their own land.”
Said attorney Matthew Daloisio, counsel for the Ramapough in state court, “Standing by and with the Ramapough has been and continues to be an inspiration. They are a community that has remained steadfast in the face of tremendous struggle, and their resilience and commitment – to one another, the land, and the larger community – serves as an example of what can be accomplished when people draw on the past and fight for the present. The future will be better because of them. We would do well to listen to their story, and learn from their wisdom.”
The Ramapough are represented in the Federal Court Action by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and, Jonathan Wallace, with support from the National Lawyers Guild NYC Chapter.
The Ramapough are represented in New Jersey State and Municipal Court Actions by attorneys
Valeria Gheorghiu, Matthew W. Daloisio, Remy Green, and Jonathan Wallace, with support from the National Lawyers Guild, NYC Chapter.
The Ramapough are represented in the New Jersey Tax Court action by the law firm of Covington & Burling, LLP.