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."