POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (CBS 2) — A small town’s council is being accused of defying the separation between church and state by calling on its members to pray at every meeting.
The New Jersey chapter of the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the Point Pleasant Beach City Council over holding a prayer in a government proceeding. The ACLU said it violates the religion clause of the First Amendment and the Garden State’s no-preference clause.
The suit is the ACLU’s second against Point Pleasant Beach — the first was over the council reciting The Lord’s Prayer word for word.
“People shouldn’t be made to feel like outsiders at their own government town council meetings, and they definitely shouldn’t be made to feel like outsiders because of their religious faith,” The ACLU’s Ed Barocas told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis.
Some said what Barocas described is exactly what is occurring. The council’s official prayer policy calls on individual council members to volunteer to pray, stating: “The designated council member shall deliver the prayer…in his or her capacity as a private citizen, and according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.”
Residents at the meeting were torn.
“I think you always have to ask God to help,” Vincent Castan said.
“I feel that if we say the ‘Our Father,’ it’s too specific, and I know some people feel that way,” Lisa Muller said.
Rev. Carlos Wilton of the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church was also unhappy with the prayer policy.
“I would be in favor of the town moving to something like a moment of silence that would not have any sectarian influence one way or the other,” Wilton said.
But Councilman Ray Cervino said he saw nothing wrong with the policy.
“Whether you’re Jewish or Muslim or Christian, we all believe in God,” Cervino said.
In the end, the council knows its treading lightly as it faces a court hearing in the next two weeks.