After facing years of harassment, Ramapough now look forward to living in peace
April 12, 2022, Mahwah, New Jersey – The Ramapough Lenape Nation and the Ramapo Hunt & Polo Club homeowners association have agreed to a settlement that sets forth a roadmap toward peaceful coexistence. After facing heavy fines and fees for practicing their religious and cultural traditions on their land, the Ramapough filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 alleging that the township of Mahwah and the Hunt & Polo Club were violating their constitutional rights.
In 2019, the Ramapough reached an agreement with Mahwah that dismissed all financial penalties, which had run to millions of dollars, and allowed them to practice their religion freely on their land. The Ramapough and the Hunt & Polo Club subsequently entered into more than a year of mediation, resulting in the current settlement.
The agreement, which requires the Hunt & Polo Club to provide the Ramapough with an undisclosed amount of monetary compensation, brings the federal lawsuit to a close. The Ramapough hope it ushers in an era of peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.
“We are eternally grateful to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Weil Gotshal, and our entire legal team,” said Chief Dwaine Perry. “Now we may come before the Creator without fear of awakening the ever present religious oppression from which we had suffered for so long. Moving into the light of tomorrow, we are grateful for all good hearts of the Homeowners Association, Mahwah, and the long suffering Ramapo People. As we move into tomorrow, may all be blessed with a drop of enlightenment.”
Descendants of the original inhabitants of the Ramapo Mountains, the Ramapo Munsee Lunaape, the Ramapough Lenape Nation owns a parcel of land in Mahwah that it regards as sacred.
The Ramapough’s relationship to their land is central to their religious faith, and due to their spiritual belief in the interconnectedness of humankind and nature, they conduct many ceremonies outdoors. Although the land in question is on a conservation zone subject to use restrictions under Mahwah’s municipal code, this had not for many years interfered with the Ramapough’s ability to use it for religious and cultural ceremonies.
In October of 2016, the Ramapough established the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Site on the property, amid concerns about a fossil fuel pipeline planned for Ramapo Pass. Allies joined meetings at the site in support of the Ramapough’s environmental stewardship. These meetings angered members of the adjacent Hunt & Polo Club, and led the township to impose zoning and land use violation fees and fines on the Ramapough for religious activities and structures on tribal property. Mahwah's enforcement was extremely aggressive, levying fines of thousands of dollars a day for small structures like a stone prayer circle and altar and informing the Ramapough that they were not permitted to gather on the land to pray.
“It is an honor to represent the Ramapough Lenape Nation as they stand up for themselves and the land, as they have for centuries,” said Rachel Meeropol, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Their resilience and approach to adversity must serve as an example and inspiration to all of us.”
With the help of lawyer Valeria Gheorghiu, the Ramapough filed a federal lawsuit in May 2018 arguing that the township of Mahwah and the Hunt & Polo Club were violating their constitutional rights to free exercise, freedom of association, due process, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP joined the legal team in August 2018.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.