FFRF supports NJ towns keeping public spaces secular

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent letters to two New Jersey communities in support of their plans to remove religious symbols from public property.

Concerned residents in the Borough of Upper Saddle River and the Town of Mahwah informed FFRF that PVC piping has been attached to poles in the areas to create an eruv — a marked perimeter signifying where observant Jews can perform biblically forbidden duties on the Sabbath. Both towns have wisely issued orders to remove the eruv markers from public property, citing their sign ordinances.

FFRF wrote that the displays not only violate the town’s ordinances, but that allowing religious devices on public property is inappropriate and unconstitutional. The government has an obligation to remain neutral toward religion and there is no secular purpose in helping a religious sect comply with self-imposed religious law.

The religious significance of an eruv is unequivocal. Eruvin allow Orthodox Jews to mark large areas of public property as an extension of private Jewish households —turning that public property symbolically into “property” of the Orthodox Jewish community. The rationale stems from a narrow interpretation of Exodus 16:29. Eruvin are objects that are significant only to some Jews seeking to obey religious laws that have no meaning for non-adherents, or even for most practicing Jews.

FFRF writes public officials that this practice “forces those of other faiths to live within an Orthodox Jewish religious enclosure, including members of other Jewish denominations who are offended by the Orthodox Jewish elevation of legalistic constructions over what they believe to be the true spiritual values of Judaism.”

“Eruvin are designated specifically so that a certain religious sect can avoid adhering to their own onerous rules,” FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to government officials in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River. “They have no meaning except as a visual, public communication of a purely religious concept for religious believers of a single faith.”

While FFRF firmly condemns any and all forms of anti-Semitism as antithetical to the constitutional principles it works to defend, it notes that if eruvin are allowed on government property, it opens the door for a multitude of polarizing religious symbols to claim public space, including Latin crosses, Islamic star and crescents, satanic pentagrams, etc.

“Ensuring that public spaces remain secular prevents the government from taking sides on religion and keeps public-owned areas free of religious divisiveness,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. Gaylor notes that practitioners are at liberty under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to erect eruvin on private property.

Eruv supporters have now sued both towns over their orders to remove the eruv. FFRF is determining what, if any, further legal action may be possible.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog with more than 29,000 members across the country, including more than 550 members in New Jersey. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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