A Wisconsin organization devoted to keeping church and state separate is demanding that remove a traditional Nativity scene from township property.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Mayor John McCormac and members of the town council, requesting that they "permanently remove a religious display from township property."
The Nativity scene was constructed of plywood and painted by members of the township's Public Works Dept. years ago, and has been traditionally placed in front of the Municipal Building when other seasonal decorations are put up along Main Street.
The display is located at the front of the building, across from the War Memorial Monument, on the corner of Main Street and Rahway Avenue. It usually is displayed along with other downtown Christmas decorations through New Year's.
"When the government displays this manger scene, which depicts the legendary birth of Jesus, it places the imprimatur of the government behind the Christian religious doctrine. Woodbridge Township is sending the unmistakable message that it endorses the religious beliefs embodied in the display," said Patrick Elliott, an attorney with FFRF who sent the letter.
The Nativity scene, Elliott said, "excludes non-Christians, such as Jewish and atheist citizens. A growing number of the population is non-religious, including 15% of the residents of New Jersey."
Elliott said that an unnamed resident had requested the organization look into the legality of the manager scene. He cited a on the township's Nativity display, and another Nativity scene on the grounds of located at the other end of Main Street on Amboy Avenue.
The township also has a Hanukkah menorah prominently displayed at the town hall entrance located at the side of the building. Christmas wreaths and a Christmas tree are located in the building's lobby.
FFRF made headlines in New Jersey earlier in December, when they contacted officials in Pitman, NJ and tried to get them to remove a "Keep Christ in Christmas" banner placed across a roadway by the local Knights of Columbus.
The Pitman borough attorney said in a nj.com article that since the banner was attached to private property, it was a zoning issue at best, and the borough had no jurisdiction. The banner wasn't removed.
David Silverman, president of American Atheists, based in Cranford, said he believes that the township's display of a Nativity scene on township property is illegal.
"It's very possible that this is an illegal, unconstitutional display. We take the separation of church and state very seriously, it's necessary to have true religious freedom," Silverman said.
"Equality is an all or nothing prospect. This is a good example of the government taking sides in religion illegally. They can't break the law just because they want to," he said.
"They can't prefer one religion over another."
In the letter to Woodbridge officials, FFRF requested that the township "take immediate action to permanently remove this religious display from township property. We ask that you respond in writing with the steps you are taking to remedy this First Amendment violation."
Mayor John McCormac did not return phone calls for comment on FFRF's letter.
Councilman Bob Luban found the whole FFRF demand "disgusting."
"This atheist group, as far as I'm concerned, can go ahead and try whatever they want. I have no problem with the Nativity or the menorah being displayed on township property," Luban said. "I'm personally tired of wacko fringe groups trying to dictate to everyone what they can and cannot do."