Foundation Advises New Jersey County To Stop Illegal Promotion Of Religion (April 1994)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation protested “a flagrant violation of state/church separation” at the Bergen County Division of Youth & Family Services (DYFS), following an announcement in March by its district office manager that troubled families will be advised to go to church and turn to religion for help.

DYFS office manager Joan Sergi claimed religion is the answer for social problems, and that the county needs to turn to churches to relieve overworked county staff.

“Not only is it unconstitutional for a county worker to promote church attendance or belief in religion, it is difficult to imagine a worse cop-out!” wrote the Foundation in letter of complaint about the Bergen County policy to Nick Scalera, state director of DYFS in Trenton. The Foundation called upon Scalera to launch an immediate investigation of the illegal use of county/state offices and resources for religious purposes.

Ms. Sergi not only advised caseworkers to promote church attendance, but has formed an official Bergen Co. “Inter-Religious Outreach Committee,” including 14 DYFS staff on it. The county agency also is compiling a list of religious entities offering “spiritual” help and religious counseling to distribute to clients.

The Foundation warned, “Such referral is not only naive and illegal, but would seem to open the county to legal risk if harm occurs through the church. . . . The efficacy of such advice, however, is secondary to the fact that it is illegal.”

The Foundation’s complaint, joined by that of its New Jersey chapter director Jo Kotula, was publicized widely through Associated Press in New Jersey.

The Foundation also complained to official parties concerning the much-publicized case of the Fort Worth, Texas federal judge who sentenced a woman and her four children to attend Sunday church services for a year as a condition of probation on a drug charge. The sentence by U.S. Dist. Judge David O. Belew, Jr., who co-founded a nondenominational church, delighted the defendant, who is the daughter of a preacher. The Foundation noted religion had already failed to solve this religious woman’s problems, and that the judge broke the guarantees of the Texas constitution in giving a criminal a choice between going to church and going to jail.

In a related story of outrageous judicial prejudice, a municipal court judge in Cincinnati, Ohio, claims he sees Jesus on a pillar at the Hamilton County Courthouse: “I saw his crown of thorns, a bloodstained eye, his beard, the look of sorrow on his face. I felt I got a wake-up call from God.”

Judge Leslie Gaines sent a letter to reporters before Easter urging others to pray at the pillar every day, as he does.

“A judge has a right to personal religious beliefs, however bizarre, but should not be urging citizens to pray at a county courthouse! How could nonChristians and nonreligious citizens feel comfortable in his courtroom?” the Foundation asked.

Freedom From Religion Foundation