The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court on Aug. 12 affirmed the rights of a man who was held in contempt of court (PDF) based on an expression of religious freedom. Appellate Division Judges Paulette Sapp-Peterson and Marie E. Lihotz ruled that two lower court judges had erred, one in holding Matthew Graham in contempt for refusing to remove a religious head-covering and another for failing to dismiss the contempt order even after having found that the municipal court judge did not follow proper procedures in issuing the citation. The Appellate Division dismissed the contempt order, marking a victory for both due process and the First Amendment. The ACLU-NJ first received notice of the order on Friday, Aug. 15.
“This order recognizes the obligation of our courts at every level to take both religious freedom and due process seriously,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom, who argued the case on Graham’s behalf. ”No one, no matter his religion, should be forced to violate his religious principles by the very judges that are supposed to protect our rights.”
When Matthew Graham went before Egg Harbor City Municipal Judge William Cappuccio in Oct. 2013, the judge held Graham in contempt for not removing his hat, despite Graham’s explanation that he wore it for religious purposes. When Judge Cappuccio stated that he knew of no religion that required the wearing of a “ski cap,” Graham attempted to explain that he lacked the funds to travel to the store where he could purchase a more traditional religious cap. Judge Cappuccio did not engage in a full hearing on the matter, and instead summarily held Graham in contempt for refusing to remove the cap.
Graham attempted to appeal the contempt finding from the municipal court to the Atlantic County Law Division. Because he could not afford the filing fee or transcript fee for an appeal, Graham sought to be declared indigent, which would relieve him of the financial obligations for those fees. However, Atlantic County Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Donio refused to hold an indigency hearing or waive the fees, not because he thought Graham could afford them, but because Graham had disobeyed the lower court judge’s command to uncover his head -- the very issue Graham sought to appeal.
In refusing to hold a hearing on Graham’s indigency and ultimately refusing to waive the cost of the transcript, Judge Donio blocked Graham’s access to the courts, a right that the Constitution grants even to those without money. The ACLU-NJ appealed that issue to the Appellate Division on Mr. Graham’s behalf in January of 2014, and the Appellate Division ordered an indigency hearing. Mr. Graham was eventually provided with a transcript of the municipal court hearing free of charge and allowed to appeal his contempt finding.
Judge Donio did not address the constitutional issue in Graham’s case, but he did agree that the municipal judge failed to follow proper procedure in issuing the citation. Instead of dismissing the contempt finding, as is required under the law, Judge Donio sent the matter back to the municipal court to give the municipal judge another opportunity to explain why he had held Mr. Graham in contempt.
Once again the ACLU-NJ appealed the case to the Appellate Division (PDF), resulting in the decision issued on Aug. 12. The ACLU-NJ explained that not only does case law require a dismissal, but that it is also inappropriate for a person to be forced back into court to appear before a judge simply because he was exercising his right to religious freedom.
The Appellate Division held: “We do not believe that wearing of what the municipal judge called a ‘ski cap’ during the proceeding compelled invocation of the extraordinary judicial contempt powers to summarily adjudicate defendant’s conduct.”
The order further stated: “Because the state concedes that the municipal judge failed to adhere to … procedural requirements … the adjudication of contempt was procedurally defective. The interest of justice is not served under this record by a remand.”
“Given the Judiciary’s scarce resources, it is disappointing that we needed to twice argue before the Superior Court and twice file appeals with the Appellate Division in order to vindicate basic principles of due process and religious freedom,” said Shalom. “But, in the end, we’re pleased that the courts properly protected Mr. Graham’s rights.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) on behalf of itself and numerous civil rights advocacy organizations in the case of Hassan, et al., v. City of New York, which challenges the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance of Muslims, mosques, and Muslim-owned businesses in New Jersey. The brief, which was submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, explained that the lower court erred when it issued a decision in February dismissing the plaintiffs' claims.
The organizations on the brief included Latino Justice PRLDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Garden State Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, and the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.
"When a person presents evidence that a government agency has singled them out for harsher treatment because of their race, ethnicity or religion, the government bears a heavy burden of justifying its actions," stated Rutgers Law School-Newark's Acting Dean Ronald Chen, who is serving as the ACLU-NJ's cooperating counsel in the case. "The plaintiffs deserve to have their day in court to challenge being profiled by the NYPD."
For years, the New York City Police Department secretly conducted surveillance that targeted Muslims living in New Jersey, until a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press series uncovered the program. On February 21, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge William Martini dismissed the lawsuit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates on behalf of eight Muslim residents of New Jersey, despite the serious constitutional concerns involved in targeting people for surveillance based solely on their religion.
"This appeal is significant, not only because it seeks to restore a challenge the NYPD's surveillance practices, but also because of what it could mean for future civil rights causes," said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "Our federal courts must be open to hearing discrimination claims. As explained in the brief, when the government profiles an entire group of people based solely on a characteristic such as ethnicity or religion, it has a ripple effect, causing others to fear and discriminate against that group."
The amicus brief in Hassan v. City of New York was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) has given Gov. Chris Christie a D+ (PDF) for his overall record on civil liberties and civil rights during his first term in office. The ACLU-NJ examined the governor’s record in 12 issue areas and gave him his lowest grades in the areas of separation of church and state, transparency, and separation of powers.
The governor earned higher marks in other areas, such as freedom of religion and voting rights. The report card examines the Christie administration from January 19, 2010 when Gov. Christie was sworn into office, to January 20, 2014 when his first term ended.
“Gov. Christie’s overall record on civil liberties and civil rights has been poor, ranging mostly from mediocre to failing,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The Christie administration’s first-term record on civil liberties will be remembered for its assaults on judicial independence and the separation of church and state, as well as for its disdain for transparency. Some of Governor Christie’s most frustrating civil liberties moments have been those instances where he has failed to back up bold words with substantive actions, such as in the areas of LGBT rights and the failed war on drugs.”
The first-term report card graded the governor on 12 crucial civil rights and liberties issues: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, privacy, LGBT rights, criminal justice and drug policy, transparency, separation of powers, and economic justice. This report card expanded on the categories of the ACLU-NJ’s 2012 interim report card, which graded him in eight categories.
“The real concern here is not what these grades mean for Gov. Christie and his administration, but what they’ve meant for everyday New Jerseyans,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “From loving couples seeking to get married, to sick patients in need of medical marijuana, to poor New Jerseyans struggling to find an affordable place to live, many of us have not had a friend in the Governor’s office. While there still remains time to improve, as of now, this administration’s legacy on civil rights and liberties is not a proud one.”
Christie’s highest grade came in the area of freedom of religion, the category in which he also earned his highest marks in the ACLU-NJ’s interim report card. Christie deservedly received praise for supporting a developer’s decision to construct a mosque and Muslim community center near the World Trade Center during the height of the controversy in 2011. Soon after, Christie garnered national attention for excoriating a faction that railed against the appointment of a Muslim lawyer to serve as a Superior Court judge.
Christie’s appreciation for freedom of religion swung too far in the other direction when it came down to state involvement in religion. In the category of separation of church and state, Christie received the lowest score – an F. Especially damning was his administration’s decision to give away millions in state funds to two sectarian religious institutions: Beth Medrash Govoha, a school that trains Orthodox rabbis, and Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains Christian clergy.
The ACLU-NJ recognized his administration’s support for voting rights, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, with a B-. In transparency, separation of powers and economic justice, Christie earned solid Fs for his abysmal record on all three issues across the board. The Bridgegate scandal exposed how frequently the administration attempted to keep government business out of the public eye, but it hardly stands in isolation.
Christie’s protracted fight against marriage equality, which ended only when it became clear that he would lose, cast a long shadow over some of his gestures of good will toward the LGBT community, resulting in his final grade of a D in LGBT rights. When it comes to immigrants’ rights, Gov. Christie supported giving undocumented immigrants a chance at a higher education by signing the NJ Dream Act, but he removed an important provision that would have fully opened the doors of opportunity by allowing them to apply for state financial aid, earning him an overall grade of a C in immigrants’ rights. Gov. Christie earned Cs in a plurality of other subjects as well, including freedom of expression, women’s rights, privacy, and criminal justice and drug policy, although even those grades ranged from C- to C+.
“The Christie administration deserves credit where credit is due, especially in taking a stand for religious expression and being responsive to voting concerns in the wake of Superstorm Sandy,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “But where Gov. Christie stumbles, such as when it comes to the separation of powers and to transparency, the bottom falls out. We hope the governor learned his civil liberties lesson from numerous court actions that were successfully brought against his administration during his first term, but if not, we’re ready to compel him to act as if he were an A student.”
On May 1, the ACLU of New Jersey and other leading civil rights organizations hosted a civil rights and liberties debate in Princeton for candidates vying for the 12th Congressional District seat. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, who is retiring.
Democratic candidates Upendra Chivukula, Linda Greenstein, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Andrew Zwicker and Republican candidate Alieta Eck, squared off on a variety of questions about civil rights and civil liberties issues. The event was moderated by NJTV anchor Mike Schneider.
The ACLU works to protect the fundamental right of every adult citizen in New Jersey to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted. Call the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Election Day hotline: 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) if you encounter any problems at the polls on June 3rd.
Co-sponsoring organization included: AFSC Immigrant Rights Program, CAIR-NJ, Drug Policy Alliance- New Jersey, The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., New Jersey NAACP State Conference, YWCA Princeton, and YWCA Union County.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), the national ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit today to stop the state of New Jersey from awarding more than $11 million in taxpayer funds to two higher education institutions dedicated solely to religious training and instruction.
The groups also filed a petition asking the court to immediately prevent the state from doling out grants to those two institutions, Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary.
“We support freedom of religion; however the government has no business funding religious ministries,” said Ed Barocas, legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Taxpayers should not foot the bill to train clergy or provide religious instruction, but the state is attempting to do exactly that.”
On April 29, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration released a list of 176 college construction projects it intends to aid with money from a voter-approved bond. The New Jersey Constitution forbids any such taxpayer funds from supporting ministries or places of worship.
Yet Beth Medrash Govoha, an orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood, is slated to receive $10.6 million from the state to pay for the construction of a new library and academic center. All courses of study at Beth Medrash Govoha are classified as “Theology/Theological Studies” or “Talmudic Studies.” The school prepares students to become rabbis and religious educators.
Similarly, Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Christian seminary located in Princeton, is slated to receive $645,323 from the state. All courses of study at the seminary either prepare students to serve as ministers or priests in Christian religious traditions or to serve as religious educators. The New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education’s website identifies the school as a “theological institution.”
“Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for the training of clergy,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “These grants plainly violate the separation of church and state enshrined in the New Jersey Constitution.”
Giving public money to Beth Medrash Govoha also violates the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The school is identified in federal records as a single-sex school with only male students. According to state records, its entire student body of 6,538 students was all-male in 2012, and all 79 members of its faculty were male during 2011.
“The state of New Jersey has an important role to play in providing financial support for institutions of higher learning in our state, but public money should not be used to fund schools that are not open and welcoming to all students in New Jersey ,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “State funding of higher education should not be done at the expense of the separation of church and state.”
The lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in Trenton. The plaintiffs in the case are the ACLU-NJ, the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey (UULMNJ) and Gloria Schor Andersen, a Voorhees Township resident who has been a public-school and a Hebrew School teacher/tutor. Andersen is also Speaker-at-Large for the Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“As a member of the clergy, I recognize the important responsibility that faith groups have in training their next generation of leaders,” said the Rev. Craig Hirshberg, executive director of UULMNJ. “However, their religious studies should not be funded by taxpayers. When the government financially supports religious groups, it provides privileges to particular religions over others and diverts designated public funds away from programs that should benefit all citizens.”
The Legislature has until June 28 to reject the grants. Some lawmakers have raised similar concerns about funding religious ministries and pressed the state for more information about its selection process.
In addition to the lawsuit, the ACLU-NJ has filed several open records requests with the state to learn more about the nature of the schools receiving funding and how the grants were awarded. The state failed to release scoring sheets and other records documenting how it determined who should receive the grants.
“These grants fly in the face of important state safeguards that protect the religious liberty of all New Jersey taxpayers,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Along with Barocas, Luchenitser, and Mach, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs include Frank Corrado of Barry, Corrado & Grassi, P.C.; Lenora Lapidus and Mie Lewis of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project; and Ayesha Khan, legal director of Americans United.
NEWARK – The state of New Jersey has denied a request (131k PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) to release the applications of all higher education institutions that applied for public funding for construction projects, stating that if the information were made public, it would “give an advantage to competitors or bidders.” The ACLU-NJ filed the requests to learn more about the nature of the schools receiving funding, and in particular to determine whether Gov. Chris Christie’s administration violated the divide between church and state.
“New Jersey has an important interest in supporting higher education in the state, but it cannot be done at the expense of the separation of church and state,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Public money should not be used to fund religious schools or institutions that may discriminate. Yet both appear to be happening under Gov. Christie’s proposal.”
“The state’s rationale for refusing to release the applications we requested makes no sense. The application process is already closed, so there would be no advantage or disadvantage in releasing these records,” Ofer added.
The state also failed to release scoring sheets and other records documenting how New Jersey Higher Education determined whether schools were eligible for funds and how much they should receive.
In May, the state released a list of 176 college building projects it selected to receive state grants from a voter-approved bond. The ACLU-NJ and state lawmakers have pressed New Jersey Higher Education to shed light on the criteria it used to select projects to fund. The ACLU-NJ is concerned that at least two of the institutions on the list, Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary, exist with the primary mission of training sectarian religious leaders and may be discriminatory in their polices or practices.
Beth Medrash Govoha, an Orthodox yeshiva in Lakewood, received $10.6 million. According to New Jersey Higher Education, Beth Medrash Govoha is a rabbinical school. Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains male and female Christian ministers, received $645,313.
The state legislature can reject the list within 60 days of its release.
On May 8, the ACLU-NJ filed a request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) for the applications of all private schools that received funding. It filed a separate request for the guidelines and parameters the state used in determining the grant amounts.
The state released to the ACLU-NJ only broad guidelines, which allow for great discretion in selecting how much each project receives.
On May 10, the ACLU-NJ filed a third OPRA request seeking all applications, scoring sheets and all correspondence between New Jersey Higher Education and representatives from each applicant. The state asked to extend the deadline for that request to June 24. The ACLU-NJ agreed to give the state more time to locate emails and other correspondence, but asked the state to release the scoring sheets by May 31. The state failed to meet that deadline.
“It’s extremely troubling that Gov. Christie’s administration expects the legislature to rubber stamp this list without answering any questions about how these schools were selected,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “The legislature should reject the funding until these serious public concerns are addressed.”
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a public records request today seeking the parameters and guidelines Gov. Chris Christie’s administration used in determining which school construction projects to fund using taxpayer dollars.
The Christie administration this week released a list of private and public universities it intends to help using money from a voter-approved bond. The list included private religious schools, such as Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male, orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood and Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains male and female Christian ministers.
“State funding of some of these projects raises constitutional concerns that must be addressed,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The legislature should reject this funding proposal until Gov. Christie sheds more light on the criteria the state used in selecting which schools and projects to fund, and assures the public that government funding is not used to support programs that discriminate.”
Beth Medrash Govoha received $10.6 million to build a new library and academic center and Princeton Theological Seminary received $645,313 to improve the technology infrastructure of its library and other technological projects.
In addition to asking the state to provide the guidelines it used in making its funding decision, the ACLU-NJ is also seeking any applications the private institutions submitted to the state requesting the money.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) released a midterm report card for Gov. Chris Christie today (182k PDF), issuing mostly low marks for his administration’s handling of critical civil liberties issues such as reproductive freedom and free speech.
The report card examines Christie’s record on an array of civil liberties issues during his first two years in office. The ACLU-NJ issued a similar report card for Newark Mayor Cory Booker (229k PDF) in 2009 during his first term in office.
“Christie has two years to turn a mediocre civil liberties record into a testament to individual rights,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “The people of New Jersey expect a leader who will stand up for their freedoms, not one who will let them know that despite his unfair policies, his heart is in the right place. It’s time for Gov. Christie’s good intentions to turn into policies that strengthen our rights and improve our lives.”
The ACLU-NJ issued the following grades:
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
Newark — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey announced today that it has once again filed suit against Point Pleasant Beach to challenge government-led prayers at municipal council meetings. The ACLU-NJ recently dismissed a previous lawsuit after the borough abandoned its practice of reciting the Lord's Prayer at every council meeting.
Point Pleasant Beach's new policy allows council members, on a rotating basis, to offer sectarian prayers - including the Lord's Prayer - at the start of council meetings. The ACLU-NJ represents borough resident Sharon Cadalzo in a challenge to this unconstitutional entanglement between the government and religion.
"The borough has replaced one unconstitutional policy with another." said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director. "New Jersey law is clear that government invocations may not include sectarian prayers."
Cadalzo regularly attends council meetings and began questioning the borough's explicit preference for Christianity more than two years ago.
"I'm disappointed in the new policy," said Cadalzo. "It shows disrespect for the diversity of our community and disrespect for the First Amendment."
The ACLU handles a variety of cases and issues concerning religious freedom. The First Amendment protects the right to practice religion as we wish, a principle that depends on the government demonstrating neutrality towards religion, and not preferring religion over non-religion, thus allowing people to practice their beliefs free from discrimination by government.
"This policy ignores the fact that the borough serves people of many different faiths and undermines the fundamental American value of religious freedom by giving council members a platform to promote their personal religious beliefs," said ACLU-NJ cooperating attorney Frank L. Corrado, of Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson P.C. in Wildwood, New Jersey.
The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, is captioned Cadalzo v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, et al., docket number OCN-L-4087-10, and will be heard before Ocean County Assignment Judge Vincent J. Grasso on December 3, 2010, at 10 a.m.
More information about the ACLU's work to defend religious freedom can be found at www.aclufightsforchristians.com