ROSELLE PARK, NJ - A complaint was filed against the Borough of Roselle Park and Mayor Carl Hokanson, on Friday afternoon by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. The group filed the lawsuit on behalf of local citizens challenging an unconstitutional display featuring what they contend is a Christian cross in front of the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library.
The display in question features a silhouette with a soldier kneeling in front of what the group claims is a Christian cross. It has been been argued by many including local veterans, that it is actually a “grave marker” used by soldiers on the battle fields.
At a recent council meeting one veteran told the story of how the soldiers would find fallen soldiers killed in action and mark their graves. They explained how they would mark the graves by taking two stick and put them together and then hang the “dog tags” of the fallen soldier off of it. It was done that way for the crew who came afterward to know who was buried at each grave site.
The American Humanist Association, sent a warning letter to the borough in August asking for the silhouette be removed from the public property. In response, the Borough Council members voted to keep the display.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said, “The Mayor and Roselle Park Council had the opportunity to support an inclusive memorial that honors all who have served to defend our freedoms. Instead, they chose to favor only Christian soldiers, ignoring the sacrifices made by many of our diverse veterans.”
“A cross displayed on government property, approved by the mayor and borough council, endorses religion in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “The city’s duty is to remain religiously neutral to respect the rights of all of its citizens rather than promoting Christianity.”
The lawsuit demands that the display be removed and seeks to “forbid” the borough from erecting a similarly religious display in the future.
When reached for comment about the complaint, Mayor Carl Hokanson said, “This is news to me. You know more than I do. I have not heard anything about this and I have not been contacted by the local attorney either. So at this time I have nothing to else that I can say.”
In 2014, the American Humanist Association prevailed in a lawsuit challenging a similar religious display for veterans in Lake Elsinore, California. The American Humanist Association is also challenging crosses on public property in Bladensburg, Maryland, and Pensacola, Florida.