EAST HANOVER, NJ- The East Hanover Board of Education decided against removing the “One Nation Under God” flags from East Hanover Middle School and the Frank J. Smith Elementary School.
The flags, a gift from the Knights of Columbus, were donated to the district over a decade ago and have hung at the schools since that time. The Board of Education was asked by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to remove the flags and were threatened with litigation forcing their removal. The non-profit group is openly dedicated to preserving the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and to “educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.”
Originally, and on recommendation of the East Hanover Board of Education’s legal counsel, a motion was placed onto the agenda to approve the removal of the flags from both schools. This changed when the board voted, by a near unanimous decision, to disapprove this removal.
The board was confronted by East Hanover’s Land Use Planning Board Chairman, William Salemme and Town Councilman, Brian Brokaw, when discussion opened up to the public on the issue.
“I would like you to consider keeping it up until some formal action is taken,” Salemme said. “I don’t think we should bend to someone just complaining about it or threatening a lawsuit…I just think we’re going a little crazy here with the political correctness and there is nothing wrong with that flag being flown at the school.”
“The Knights of Columbus helps sponsor the Easter Egg Hunt at Lurker Park. Everybody partakes of that; every religion and every non religion,” Brokaw added. “I think it’s a slap in the face to the Knights, having to take that (the flag) down.”
The points were deliberated by the board, with opinions on both sides of the issue. While it is true that every attempt to strike “one nation under god” from the Pledge of Allegiance has been shot down by the courts, the display of this line, as in the case of the flag, has been ruled as a support of a religion.
“It’s the display,” said East Hanover’s Counsel. “The United States Supreme Court cases speak to the display of anything that could convey the message of support or endorsement of any religious aspect.”
However this legal point of view was not the deciding factor in this case. While the board may have a change of heart in the face of legal action that would drain taxpayer dollars, for the time being they are happy to let the banners wave.
“I am fine with waiting,” said Board Member, Joe Troise. “I don’t like the fact that you talk about being bullied, because that’s what I think someone is doing. I think if they took a vote in this town to keep that up, that flag would stay up. I am totally against it (taking down the flag), but I do not want the tax payers to bear the burden of fighting it.”
This sentiment was echoed by the majority of the board. The lone voice of opposition came from Board President, Sean Sullivan. In the face of overwhelming opposition, Sullivan stuck by his decision from when the flags where first raised.
“I voted against raising the flag 13 years ago,” Sullivan said. “To me it is a symbol of religion. We don’t make all of the rules. We have to follow the constitution. We have to follow federal law. Is it possible that there are individual members of the community who find it offensive? Does that person lose their right to not be offended? It’s not always the majority rules.”
The board additionally has been thinking of ways to work around this problem. It was mentioned several times that there was a possibility of putting the entire Pledge of Allegiance on the flag. This has surely been a hot button issue throughout the town and will be a situation to keep your eye on as developments unfold.