New Jersey mayors are being warned to be careful before approving municipal holiday decorations this year and to consider asking an attorney’s advice before anything gets plugged in.
New Jersey League of Municipalities President William Dressel Jr. sent a letter out to several of the state’s mayors to offer them guidance on what he calls a tricky legal issue, according to the Bergen County Record
But many North Jersey officials said they plan to keep following tradition instead of the advice of attorneys when it comes to their towns’ displays.
"We don't plan or consult," said Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera, whose town puts up an annual display of a lighted holiday tree and a menorah. “That's how it's always been done. It's not controversial, and I hope it never will be in town."
Totowa Mayor John Coiro said he is not concerned about his town’s lighted tree, because it is "a symbol of the season and not necessarily of any particular religion."
However, Municipal League attorney Matthew Weng said municipal holiday displays can cause the potential for problems that could lead to a costly lawsuit.
"Not only legally, but politically, you can run the risk of offending a large portion of your residents if you do it incorrectly, if you exclude some," Weng said. "You also run the risk of what could be a costly lawsuit. You either include everybody or you exclude everybody.
For example, towns can include religious symbols in their displays, as long as they include more than one religion. That has caused many municipal buildings to go overboard, displaying snowmen, reindeer, the Nativity, menorahs and Kwanzaa candelabras all at the same time.
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