Menorah Placement at Town Hall May Be Unconstitutional, Says Atheist Group

First it was a Nativity scene at the municipal building that was a problem...now it looks like a huge lighted menorah may be an issue as well.

The addition of secular holiday decorations and a 'Happy Kwanzaa' sign this holiday season might've made the constitutionality of the Woodbridge Nativity scene on Town Hall property a little more within the realm of law.

There may still be a problem, though, around the other side of the building: the placement of a huge Menorah at the entrance to the Municipal Building. 

That may be a violation of the separation of church and state, said Patrick Elliott, an attorney with the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) who has taken issue before with the township's use of religious displays on public property.

The menorah, a symbol of Hanukkah and Judaism's 'Holiday of Lights', may not be the issue, Elliott said, as much as the context in which the religious symbols are placed.

"The menorah is a religious symbol. Standing alone it poses an establishment problem. Is it still alone or somehow incorporated into a secular display?" Elliott said.

There's a huge Christmas wreath in the vestibule of the municipal building, not far from the menorah, and in the background inside the building, a Christmas tree.

"It all depends upon the context," Elliott said. "[The menorah] shouldn't be there by itself."

Ideally, public property shouldn't be the home of religious displays at all, he added.

Last year, the Wisconsin-based FFRF sent a letter to Woodbridge officials, pointing out that the traditional Nativity scene put out on town hall property was unconsitutional. The scene, crafted years ago by Public Works employees out of plywood, was placed by itself on the busy corner of Rahway Avenue and Main Street. 

Elliiott said that the township never responded to his letter, and it seemed that long after holiday decorations were up around town that the Nativity might not be put up at all. 

But at the last minute, the display was put up as it had been for years, but this time, with a host of secular holiday decorations, including reindeer, a lighted Santa and Christmas tree, and a big 'Happy Kwanzaa' sign.

Those secular touches have been seen by courts to mitigate the 'establishment of religion' impact that a Nativity scene by itself gives to a display on public property. 

The enormous lighted menorah, though, might be another issue, placed as it is around the corner of the building away from the other secular holiday items, Elliott said.

"In terms of constitutional issues, the numbers don't matter," Elliott said, referring to how a majority of townspeople might view a religious display. It's the minority, those who aren't religious, or those who aren't affiliated with a traditional religion, whose rights also have to be protected.

"We're asking for respect for the non-religious. A lot of Christians see Judaism as co-equal, but they don't see the non-religious as co-equal," he said.

After the holidays are over, Elliott said, his group will look at the Woodbridge displays more closely and "provide comment."

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sheila December 20, 2012 at 11:58 AM
With the horrible slayings that went on last week, this is what people are worrying about?
Pastor Chris Sadlo December 20, 2012 at 12:17 PM
As a Christian, seeing a menorah at the entrance of the Townhall doesn't bother me one bit. I think it's time for Mr. Elliott and the FFRF's 15 min of fame to be up and they should just not be given any time in print or media..
Jojo December 20, 2012 at 12:31 PM
With everything that's going on in the world, these useless Fs have nothing better to bitch about? Bunch of little bitches.
slyfox1961 December 20, 2012 at 12:43 PM
@Pastor Sadlo: I couldn't agree more. The only leverage these people have is the media attention given to them. Critics will counter that the public needs to know in order to pressure politicians, but that argument holds no water because laws cannot counter constitutional rights. And the courts do not rule based on public opinion. So enough with the free public spotlight already, and let these worms slither away from where they came from.
Austin December 20, 2012 at 02:22 PM
This is what you put to print, or screen I should say! Who cares! Bunch of jerks bitching about nothing. Find something more happy to put out, especially at this time, instead of always looking to bash the Township and Administration!
c. darling December 20, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Like u said, why worry about those children and teachers that where murder. when they can cry about our beliefs. I see they even gave the atheists a place. there is a place for them. That"s between Santa and the NATIVITY scene. There is nothing there. he he. The Menorah should stay. Its part of the "decorations". All I have to say now is "GOD BLESS THE ATHEISTS. MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone.
Sara December 20, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Will this guy just go away, already? These displays remind me of my childhood when all I saw were bright lights and people actually getting along. We all need a little respect for each other, especially these days. I'm very glad my school taught religion in school. We covered every religion out there including non-religion. The school itself was Anglican but it didn't matter. Have some frickin' tolerance for people who aren't like you. If every window in the town hall was decorated with a religious artifact, I'd say ok, that's a bit much. However, what, 90%? of the windows are bare? Then I'd say Atheists actually are being represented 90%. Can we start fighting about that? So ridiculous...
stephen mckessy December 20, 2012 at 03:30 PM
to all our Jewish friends HAPPY HANUKKAH and to everyone else Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa and if I missed anyone else sorry HAPPY HOLIDAYS Im just waiting for one of those atheist to tell me my display on port reading ave offends then ill sy MERRY CHRISTMAS
Chris Stanley December 20, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Can someone here please tell us exactly what the purpose of the Woodbridge Township government is? I don't want to read someone's guess. I'd like someone to post a legitimate quote from something like a mission statement or proclamation.
Mr. C December 20, 2012 at 04:43 PM
When an atheist dies and is all dressed up where does he/she go. This minute segment of our population gets way too much press. Why are the politicans so afraid of them? We don't tell you what to do, so leave the rest of us alone. Have a Merry CHRISTmas.
John Porcellana December 20, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Mr. Elliott and his anti-religion morons should all go crawl back under the slimy rock from which they came or find something serious to complain about like the national debt and psychos like Adam Lanza. Pathetic losers.
scott s December 20, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Really????? This is what people are worried about. How about worrying about families that lost everything from the storm or kids that don't have parents and don't get a Christmas or whatever you celebrate put your energy into something useful.
Gordo K December 20, 2012 at 08:04 PM
OK, so let's let this nutso put up a display of his own. What would it be? A blank sign? A "there is no God" banner? How 'bout "Atheist Power"? This is what our legislators and lawyers like to deal with - hysterical issues that divert public attention from their lack of any REAL issues.
chuckidl December 20, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Why can't these atheists/complainers just wish people peace and joy for a holiday? Exactly how does this hurt them? I wish all my friends health and happiness for their religious holidays, and would not be offended in the least if the town displayed something to honor those days. These small-minded people should realize what is really important in the world and respect others.
John Porcellana December 20, 2012 at 09:31 PM
scott s, I stand corrected. Those who have suffered devastating losses from Sandy should have been in the forefront of my comment of serious issues more important than taking issue with a Christmas display. This is not to take away from the Connecticut tragedy. I cannot begin to grasp the ongoing grief of these people. God bless them all.
John Porcellana December 21, 2012 at 01:13 AM
Oh, come on Chris, lighten up for Pete's sake. This is all about a bunch of Wisconsin momos sticking their Godless noses where they don't belong and are NOT WANTED!


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