NJ town removing public religious holiday decorations in 2018
DENVILLE — The holiday display in front of Township Hall this year will include decorations for Hanukkah, Christmas and the Norse holiday of Yule. All that is expected to change next year.
As of 2018, the township has declared that religious displays will not be allowed on municipally owned property. The reason for the change in policy, according to a statement by the township, is that "if the township grants permission to allow for religious symbols on township property, such as the nativity or the menorah, it has a constitutional obligation to allow all religions to put displays upon township property."
By doing so, the township said it "cannot be selective in which religions it permits and which religions it doesn't permit." This could result in "hate-based" groups to erect displays, officials said.
"The township would first like to indicate that our community is and shall remain tolerant of all religions, beliefs, cultures and customs," the township said in a statement.
Business Administrator Steve Ward said the change in policy will not affect the three nativity scenes around town because they are located on private property. However, decorations like the menorah used for the township lighting ceremony will be moved to a "prominently located parcel of property in Denville for 2018 and beyond," the statement said.
While items like nativity scenes and menorahs are considered religious symbols by the U.S. Supreme Court, the township said things like Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, and similar items are considered secular, which is why they will be allowed in the future.
"Any lawyer will indicate that being selective on what religious displays are permitted on township property and which are not permitted would result in a costly Federal civil rights religious discrimination lawsuit that the Township would be unable to effectively defend."
In the next week or so, Ward said he expects a Thor's hammer to be added to the display in honor of the Yule holiday which starts on Dec. 21. The holiday display will also include a Christmas tree, a sleigh, snowmen and other festive decorations according to Ward.
While there have been some reports that the holiday displays will be moved to Hogan Park, but Ward said that is not the case.
"Hogan Park is a public park owned and maintained by the township," he said. "There will be no religious items items in Hogan park or any other Park or parcel of property owned by the township after Jan. 1."
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com