FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 06/12/17
MAHWAH NJ – On Tuesday, June 13th The Ramapough Lenape Nation will present a motion in opposition to the Town of Mahwah’s temporary restraining order against the nation. The township issued a series of summonses and sought the restraining order against the Nation over its efforts to hold religious ceremonies on its land.
The Sweetwater prayer site at the Polo Club in Mahwah is recognized as Ramapough private property by the State of New Jersey. It is also recognized as Ramapough ancestral land where ceremonies have been conducted for hundreds of years. It is also part of the New Jersey Green Acres program that encourages use of land for public access, conservation, and education.
Access to the Ramapo River is essential for religious and ceremonial practices of the Nation. “The lawsuit is an overreach by the Township of Mahwah because the Township cannot demonstrate irreparable harm and the lawsuit is not the least restrictive means necessary to enforce land use laws,” said Valeria Gheorghiu of Sussman and Associates, a lawyer for the Ramapough. “Under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons’ Act, towns must use the least restrictive means necessary to enforce their land use laws. Seeking a court order to shut down all activity is not the least restrictive means.”
The Town of Mahwah claims that teepees and tents are permanent structures on the land that violate zoning ordinances.
“The State Department of Environmental Protection conducted an investigation of the Sweetwater prayer site and found no violations of state law that required any further action,” said Joel Kupferman of the National Lawyers Guild. “The Town of Mahwah in the past pointed to the State Department of Environmental Protection as being the authority on our land use but now rejects that same state agency when the Town does not like their findings,” said Chief Perry.
The Town of Mahwah interprets the Temporary Order as prohibiting religious worship and assembly whereas the Ramapough Nation continues to use the site for prayer. “Although Mayor Bill Laforet said that the Township has no plans to attempt enforcement of the temporary restraints, the Township has failed to show how use of the Sweetwater site for religious purposes causes the irreparable harm necessary for such extraordinary measures,” said Tom Williams, lawyer for the Ramapough, “the alleged violations have not even been heard by the Mahwah Municipal Court.”
The Town of Mahwah claims that teepees used in ceremony are permanent structures. “We just want to use, gather, and pray on the land the way our ancestors did,” said Two Clouds, a Ramapough at the Sweetwater Prayer site.
“The Ramapough’s are exercising their first amendment rights by protesting plans for an oil pipeline,” said Aaron Kleinbaum, lawyer for the Ramapough and executive director for the Eastern Environmental Law Center (EELC). “The Township of Mahwah’s effort to shut them down flouts New Jersey and federal law protecting against police harassment, obstruction of religious freedom, and constitutional rights to peacefully assemble on private property.”
The court will hear arguments on Tuesday, July 13th at 10:00AM at the Bergen County Superior Court, 10 Main St., Hackensack.
To support this effort:
Visit Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp at 95 Halifax Road, Mahwah, NJ 07430.
Write a letter to Mahwah Township in support of the Ramapough Lenape Nation and Split Rock Sweetwater Camp. Click here for Mahwah Town Council contact info.
Donate to the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp Legal Defense Fund at