Judge Voids NJ Town’s Policy On Council Prayers

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey shore town will have to cease its practice of allowing individual borough council members to say a prayer before meetings, a judge ruled Friday in a decision that likely won’t end a dispute that has inspired vigorous debate among residents and advocates.

The ruling by state Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso effectively voided a recent policy created by the Point Pleasant Beach borough council in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a Jewish resident who objected to the council’s practice of reading the Lord’s Prayer before meetings.

The lawsuit was dropped when the council agreed to discontinue reading the Lord’s Prayer and have a moment of silence instead. During two meetings this fall, some audience members stood up and recited the prayer during the silent period.

The council then adopted a policy that allows an individual council member to give an invocation “in his or her capacity as a private citizen, and according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.” Some council members chose to make invocations with religious overtones, and the ACLU sued again.

The policy “permits and, arguably, encourages a sectarian message” with no guidelines, Grasso said in granting the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction nullifying the policy while the lawsuit is pending. A prayer at a governmental session “is contrary to the role of secular government,” Grasso added.

“We’re pleased the borough won’t be able to continue its unconstitutional policy,” ACLU New Jersey legal director Jeanne LoCicero said.

Point Pleasant Beach attorney Kevin Riordan said he was disappointed by the decision but said the borough would review the policy and consider returning to the moment of silence before meetings.

Council member Jeffrey Dyer, who gave an invocation last month that mentioned Jesus Christ, framed the issue in terms of religious freedom.

“I’m not fighting for just a Christian prayer; I believe we have the right to pray,” Dyer said. “I’m very disappointed. We aren’t allowed, as government officials, to force one religion on others, and I don’t think what we were doing does that.”

A return to the moment of silence could intensify the dispute, particularly if competing groups tried to recite prayers at the same time, for example.

Riordan claimed the ACLU demanded that the council eject audience members who recited the Lord’s Prayer, an action he said the council was not prepared to take. Frank Corrado, an attorney representing plaintiff Sharon Cadalzo in concert with the ACLU, disputed the contention but said the council is responsible for controlling the meetings.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

  • moickey2829

    wouldn`t it be correct that public schools should not be closed for religious holidays.yom kippur,christmas and easter?we have to get the ACLU the biggest hippocrites in the country.

  • Toy

    There’s a very good reason that church and State should be kept separate…and it’s right and fitting that the practice of praying before official business be discontinued, no matter how heartfelt resistance to the discontinuation…. This is a good call by the judge.

  • David MIgdal

    These aren’t prayers because of any genuine humility and belief in God, these are attack prayers by bullies who want to dominate others, they aren’t talking to God they are trying to be the top clique in a high school for adults that never ends.

  • TODD

    The ACLU is a bunch of hypocrites,they cherry pick their arguements for their
    own liberal agenda,how many christians have they ever defended,they are a huge reason our country is in a moral decline,to sum them up,they suck!!!

    • Michael H.

      Here’s a website with links to the many many many times the ACLU has fought for the rights of Christians:


      Think before you speak. Google is your friend.

    • KPMc

      That’s because it’s ACLU, which stands for AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION and not CHRISTIAN DOGMA DEFENSE UNION.

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