Nativity Scene is Back This Year at Town Hall
But the legal wrangling over a religious display on public property might not be over yet.
Just when you might've thought all was lost, Woodbridge's traditional Nativity display made its way back onto Town Hall property late Monday afternoon.
It was in its normal place on the busy corner of Main Street and Rahway Avenue. But this year, the creche display had some company.
A lit up Santa Claus, a Christmas tree of lights, and several reindeer accompanied the display on one side, while a big green "Happy Kwanzaa" sign decorated the other.
That was the township administration's nod to a protest lodged last year by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national atheist education and lobbying group in Wisconsin, about the display of a religious display on public property.
The sudden addition of secular holiday decoration to the Nativity scene this year may be an effort to diffuse what the FFRF sees as an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
"There may still be a liability here in what they've done and what their purpose is" in putting up the display, said Patrick Elliott, an FFRF attorney.
The township had had its Christmas decorations up at Town Hall for several days, minus the outdoor Nativity display. Late Sunday night, the grass was bare outside the municipal building.
But after phone calls and a small protest on Facebook from Woodbridge residents, upset at the McCormac administration's apparent backing down in putting up the Christmas manager display, the plywood figures were suddenly erected in a drizzling rain late Monday afternoon.
Mayor John McCormac didn't answer emails about the reason for the township's change of heart.
"Beside the legal issues, it's a little bit disturbing that they're putting up token elements of other religions," Elliott said. "The proper response is to leave religious displays off public property."
Even with the secular decorations added, Elliott said the display still has to be "analyzed in context. Have they sufficiently removed the religious message? That's what a judge would determine."