With network news trucks outside a home on Sterling Drive and a front page story in the Star-Ledger, Livingston officials responded Monday to claims by the Alliance Defense Fund that they are trying to stifle a local man’s First Amendment right to put a cross on his lawn.
Simply, the mayor and township attorney said, it’s not true.
“The Township of Livingston remains committed to allowing its residents full protection of their First Amendment rights, including their expression of their religious beliefs,” attorney Sharon Weiner said.
Patch asked for comment following an article Monday by the Star-Ledger that outlined the charges by the Alliance Defense Fund, a coalition of Christian lawyers who say they may take the township to court if it doesn’t allow Patrick Racaniello to put a cross anywhere he wants on his lawn.
“There is currently a 6 ft. by 4 ft. cross on Mr. Racaniello’s lawn outside of the public right-of-way and Mr. Racaniello had been informed that the Township has no issue with this location,” Weiner said in an email to Patch.
The township did have any issue earlier this year when Racaniello displayed a cross on a tree and a second in the ground on the public right-of-way, a violation of township ordinance. Facing fines, both crosses were removed.
“The restrictions imposed on Mr. Racaniello’s intrusion into the public right-of-way, as well as every other resident of Livingston, are content neutral based upon a concern for public safety,” Weiner said.
The township is reviewing the code to allow residents to fasten a cross on a tree on property not within the right-of-way, Mayor Rudy Fernandez said.
According to the Star-Ledger, the judicial outcome of this conflict could go a long way to determine the reach of a 2000 federal land-use law intended to protect religious expression.
Weiner emphasized in the Star-Ledger article that the township was not singling out Racaniello or his display.
“It paints this town in a light that clearly is not what we’re about,” added Fernandez, speaking to Patch Monday afternoon. “If you spend time in this town, and see how different groups work together, you will see we have a rich and diverse community who respect each other without regard to race or religion.”
Read the full article in the Star-Ledger, Cross on Livingston resident's lawn becomes First Amendment flashpoint.