State judge dismisses Township of Mahwah’s restraining order against Ramapough Lanape Nation

Update: June 20, 2017 – The Ramapough Lenape Nation – a State-recognized Tribe that owns land in Mahwah, NJ – won an important victory in Court when Judge Powers filed a June 15, 2017 decision vacating the Township of Mahwah’s temporary restraints and Order to Show Cause to prevent the ceremonial use of the Tribe’s property.

On June 13, 2017, the Nation’s legal team, including Aaron Kleinbaum of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, Mahwah attorney Thomas Williams, the Sussman & Associates Law Firm’s Valeria Georghiu, along with the support of the National Lawyers Guild, appeared in Court against the temporary restraining order before Judge Charles E. Powers of the New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division. The courtroom was packed, with over forty Tribe members and supporters. Judge Powers issued his decision in favor of the Tribe two days later. 

 Judge Powers also dismissed the Township of Mahwah’s request for a permanent restraining order that would have forced the Ramapough Tribe to destroy structures on their own property and effectively abandon their ceremonial use of the property and attempts to raise awareness about opposition to the Pilgrim Pipeline and create educational and environmental-sustainability programs for their members and the public.

Aaron Kleinbaum, EELC’s executive director, said, “The Township of Mahwah has tacitly approved of ceremonial use on the Tribe’s property for decades and has been aware of the increased use of the property since last year. As Judge Powers noted in his decision, the Township waited six months from the time the Tribe began holding more prayer ceremonies at the property before issuing citations, demonstrating the lack of immediate and irreparable harm necessary for a restraining order.”

Karenna Gore, Director for the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, said, that the Ramapough Tribe members are “a people who have lived, prayed, and performed ceremonies in this region since long before the establishment of the United States of America. Many of them have also served our country since the days of the American Revolution, including by providing shelter, food and care for their neighbors and risking and giving their lives in the United States military.”

Read the briefs filed by the attorneys representing the Ramapough Lenaape Nation:

May 31, 2017: Defendant’s Reply to Notice of Motion to Vacate TR

June 15, 2017: Brief in Support of Defendant’s Opposition to OSC

Read Judge Powers’ decision:

June 15, 2017:  Judge’s Order


Update: June 13, 2017 – Dozens of Ramapough Lenape tribe members and supporters appeared at Superior Court on Tuesday, June 13, as the tribe’s legal team,which includes attorneys from EELC, argued against the temporary restraining order that the Township of Mahwah had filed against the tribe. The order, according to the attorneys, should be overturned as it hinders the tribe’s constitutional right to freely exercise religious ceremonies and meetings.  Judge Charles E. Powers is expected to issue a ruling on the motion within a few days. Read more here.

Tribe members and supporters outside of the courthouse.


On June 13, 2017, the Honorable Judge Powers of Bergen County will hold a hearing at the Hackensack Courthouse requested by Members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation – a State-recognized Tribe that owns land in Mahwah, NJ.  The Ramapoughs have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights by assembling and holding religious ceremonies on their land, Sweet Water, for over a quarter of a century. Recently, they have added their voices to the chorus protesting the Pilgrim Pipeline, an oil pipeline that threatens drinking water.  The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued a report stating that it took no issue with the Tribe’s activities. However, on May 10, 2017, at the Township of Mahwah’s behest and without the Tribe’s lawyers present, a New Jersey state court signed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Tribe members from continuing to assemble and conduct religious activities on their property. 

On May 31, 2017, the Nation’s legal team including Aaron Kleinbaum of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, Mahwah attorney Thomas Williams, the Sussman & Associates Law Firm’s Valeria Georghiu along with the support of the National Lawyers Guild filed a motion seeking to allow the Tribe to continue its religious activities and assembly at Sweet Water. Aaron Kleinbaum, EELC’s executive director, said, “The Ramapough’s are exercising their first amendment rights by protesting plans for an oil pipeline.  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 June 9.

The Eastern Environmental Law Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public interest law firm, located in Newark, New Jersey, working on behalf of environmental and conservation organizations to protect communities, open space, wildlife, and the natural heritage and public health of the eastern United States for generations to come.