Under terms of settlement of a federal lawsuit challenging the placement of a veterans’ display that featured a Christian cross, officials in Roselle Park have agreed to refrain from erecting that or similar religious displays in the future.
Leaders at the American Humanist Association (AHA), which brought the suit on behalf of two local residents, say this settlement protects the separation of church and state.
“This is a victory for the Constitution and for veterans of many faiths, and none at all, who served our country proudly and deserve to have a memorial that respects everyone,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.
The AHA was contacted by concerned citizens last summer when the display, which portrayed a soldier kneeling before a Christian cross, was installed by public employees on government property.
The group promptly warned the mayor of the constitutional violation and demanded that it be taken down.
The city kept the display in place, however, and only took it down after a lawsuit was filed.
Gregory Storey, a local resident, said he objected to the display, believing it “singles out veterans of one religion, and in doing so ignores and disrespects veterans of all other religions, or no religion.”
Storey approached Mayor Carl Hokanson to point out the constitutional violation and to discuss an alternate designs to honor all veterans, but was turned away.
“A government-owned display that features a Christian cross sends a message that only Christian veterans are being honored,” said David Niose, the Legal Director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Legal Center. “This lawsuit was about ensuring that the government must refrain from such religious favoritism, and we’re glad that in the end the Constitution prevailed.”
Attorneys from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center worked with a local New Jersey lawyer, Paul Grosswald, in pursuing this case.
Hokanson was not available for comment.
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