NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey won a court order today that calls for the immediate suspension of a Point Pleasant Beach policy that allows for government-led prayer at municipal council meetings. The policy, adopted by the council in October 2010, allowed its municipal council members to lead meetings with prayers that reflect their personal religious beliefs.
The ACLU-NJ sued the borough on behalf of resident Sharon Cadalzo on November 9, 2010, and sought a preliminary injunction halting the practice. The current lawsuit is a second challenge by the ACLU-NJ to the borough's unconstitutional sponsorship of particular religious beliefs. Ocean County Assignment Judge Vincent J. Grasso issued the injunction. The lawsuit is still pending.
"The policy clearly violated the New Jersey constitution, which obligates the government to not show a preference for one religion over another," said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director, who argued the motion. "We support the right of government officials to pray on their own time, but when they act as the voice of government, they cannot promote their own religious beliefs."
Cadalzo has been regularly attending council meetings since 2007. Until the new policy was adopted, the borough clerk recited the Lord's prayer and made the sign of the cross. The new policy has allowed the borough to continue its practice by authorizing council members to offer explicitly Christian prayers at their meetings, including the November 9 meeting which Cadalzo attended.
"Our community practices and celebrates many different faiths and beliefs," Cadalzo said. "The borough's actions and policy ignores our diversity and can have a chilling effect on residents who are not a member of the 'preferred' religion."
The ACLU-NJ first filed suit on Cadalzo's behalf on September 16, 2010. It dropped the suit after the borough agreed to stop reciting the Lord's Prayer. The borough then adopted the policy currently in dispute.
"I am pleased that the court has put a stop to this policy, which was a transparent attempt at circumventing the constitution," said ACLU-NJ cooperating attorney Frank L. Corrado, of Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson P.C. in Wildwood, New Jersey. "I sincerely hope borough officials will recognize that promoting one religion over another is alienating, divisive and unconstitutional."
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court of New Jersey, is captioned Cadalzo v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, et al., docket number OCN-L-4087-10.
More information about the ACLU's work to defend religious freedom can be found at http://www.aclu.org/aclu-defense-religious-practice-and-expression and http://www.aclufightsforchristians.com