RARITAN TWP., NJ – Committeeman Lou Reiner has resigned as the township’s Deputy Mayor, it was revealed at last night’s Township Committee meeting, but he intends to keep his seat on the five-member group.
That is notwithstanding his censure and call for resignation by the Township Committee, which criticized him for his “derogatory, discriminatory, and offensive public statements,” according to the resolution it approved.
Reiner’s beliefs were first reported by TAPinto on Sept. 17, after Reiner posted to his Facebook page a meme that called Islam a cancer that should be treated with radiation. The meme’s image was one of a mushroom cloud explosion.
The resolutions to censure Reiner and name Mike Mangin as Deputy Mayor weren’t on the public agenda, but were added at the start of the meeting. The resolution, as read by Mayor Jeff Kuhl, said Reiner “exposed the township and the residents to undue financial liability and public humiliation” because of his remarks, and that it was “misguided” for Reiner to think his fellow Committee members would agree with him
Committee member Karen Gilbert said, “Raritan Township’s reputation has been tarnished by Mr. Reiner’s comments” and that she was “personally offended” by his post and remarks he made to TAPinto.
“We are a community that welcomes all people,” Gilbert said, and called Reiner’s remarks filled with “hatred and bigotry.”
Dozens of people attended the meeting to speak about the controversy. Some vigorously defended Reiner, although they were outnumbered by his critics.
Kuhl asked that the public avoid “the same comments being repeated over and over again” and said those not behaving would be asked to leave.
Resident Karen Russo called the Committee’s actions to censure Reiner and seek his resignation “despicable.
“We have First Amendment rights in this country,” Russo said. “Those rights protect speech that others might find offensive … What you like to call hate speech is absolutely protected under the First Amendment.”
Russo told the Township Committee that, “You have the right to be offended. You can be offended all you want. You do not have the right to expect to be accommodated over it.” She called their reactions “mob rule. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Russo also said, “There is no such thing as hate speech. It’s a made-up term that is used to silence people that others disagree with.” Township officials have “no legal ground” to take action against Reiner, she said, calling it “completely unconstitutional… You should all be ashamed of yourself.”
Jeff Bate said he lives in Holland Township but is a retired Raritan Township Police Sergeant. “I’ve never seen Mr. Reiner treat anybody other than with courtesy and respect,” Bate said. “I think he’s a good representative of Raritan Township … I think he truly cares about your community.”
Resident Tom Smith called the response to Reiner a “charade. Yes, he might have used bad judgment.”
Smith said many people “may hate biblical Christianity” but don’t hate those who observe it, and claimed he could speak about Reiner with “some authority” because many of his friends are from “Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, I went to school with them and I’m still friends with them.
“They detest the liberalism, and the secular humanists in America,” Smith said. “They think it’s a disgrace. So don’t give me any of this self-righteousness.”
Joey Novick, an attorney who lives in Flemington, agreed with those who said “offensive speech needs to be protected” but said the issue is one of “personal and professional judgment.”
While accepting his apology but also calling for his resignation, Novick said Reiner “shows that he does not have the discipline or the judgment to continue serving the residents of Raritan Township.”
“As an elected official, Lou Reiner is accountable to everyone,” said resident Marie Corfield, who also asked Reiner to resign.
Resident Marianne Rampulla said, “I don’t accept your apology and I’m not even sure that you wrote it.” She said Reiner showed “outright hostility” that has made him “unfit to serve.”
R. Dale Winget is a resident and attorney, and said he attended the meeting to “comprehend what happened to the First Amendment.”
In his Facebook post, Reiner was “speaking as a private individual exercising his right to free speech,” Winget said. “Where does that give you the right to prosecute him? In my view, you have no such right.”
Winget said that, “We see all of our inalienable rights, that the Declaration of Independence says come from God, are being taken away from us, a piece at a time.”
To jeers from the audience, Winget said, “A little education would inform you, that for 14 centuries, the world has been afflicted by the Muslim religion. Millions of people have been killed.”
Resident Karen Becker said Reiner’s apology reflected “words crafted by a political machine trying to do damage control.”
Karen Buys said she lives in Readington, but is a member of the township’s Flemington Jewish Community Center and has had Muslims speak in her Sunday school classes.
“I know some Muslims in this community,” Buys said. “I have eaten meals with them. I have grieved with them.” She called Reiner’s remarks “reprehensible” and “hate-filled abuse.”
“A person who has expressed views that all of the people of a religion should be exterminated cannot represent individuals who belong to that religion,” Buys said. Reiner’s First Amendment rights “do not protect him from the repercussions of his language.”
Lambertville’s John Thomas said he may have been among a minority in the audience, because he was born and grew up in Hunterdon.
Thomas, who once worked at the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper that was then owned by his family, called Reiner’s remarks “a corruption of morals.” He said, “I was a Republican most of my life” but could no longer support the party “with this kind of corruption.”
Gilbert noted that the Township’s Community Day had been held the previous Saturday.
“The community came out and saw what we’re really all about,” she said, “which is being together, and working together, (and) volunteer organizations supporting each other.”