Pitman Punts

promoted by Rosi

“Even though the prospect sickens, brother here we go again”
 – Tom Lehrer, “A Christmas Carol

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year again folks, and it wouldn't be the “Holiday” season without the War on Christmas, and all its battles, real and imagined, from the annual rumors that our secret Muslim President is changing the name of the White House Christmas Tree to the Holiday Tree, to the real story of the Governor of Rhode Island and the State Holiday Tree, to the various whining talking heads on Fox “News”, and the usual skirmishes over Nativity scenes on public property, which can easily be fixed by placing a Menorah beside them.

But there is a real war on Christmas right in my own backyard, in Pitman, NJ, where someone has hung a sign above Broadway (Pitman's main drag), that reads, “Keep Christ in Christmas”. Now, you don't need to be a constitutional scholar to understand that this sign breaches the wall of separation of church and state, and one First Amendment advocacy group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has complained.

Now, this sort of thing is not unusual, but the response of the Pitman Borough Attorney, Brian Duffield, is quite interesting:

“We found out that the banner is attached on one end to the old bank — which is privately owned — and on the other end it’s connected to an Atlantic City Electric or Verizon pole which the borough does not own. Also, Broadway is a county — not a borough — road. Everything related to the sign is not on Pitman public property.”

Huh? According to my map, the location of this banner lies withing Pitman's borders, hangs in Pitman's airspace, yet the Borough of Pitman has no legal jurisdiction to take it down? The banner, according to the Borough, hangs in some generic part of Gloucester County, not in Pitman. The banner just appeared by magic. Using this logic, I suppose I can park my car at one of the metered spots on Broadway without putting money into the meter, and no cop would give me a ticket because Broadway is out of Pitman's jurisdiction.

Pitman takes pride in its origins as a Methodist encampment and its many churches, but there is no religious test to live in Pitman, nor is there a religious test to travel to or through it, to park on its streets, or to shop at its Mom and Pop stores on Broadway. A banner with a religious proclamation, hanging in a public street, whether it's a municipal road or a county road, is inappropriate and should come down.

Duffield's punt on jurisdiction here pretty much ensures that the banner will remain in place, at least for the near future, but with Christmas just over a week away, it will be down in a few weeks anyway.

So, what can church/state separation advocates do? A legal battle would not be resolved between now and December 25th.

How about some civil disobedience, climb up there and take the sign down ourselves? After all, since the banner is out of Pitman's jurisdiction, we can expect the police to stand idly by and wait for the Gloucester County Sheriff to arrive, by which time the sign and the removers will be long gone, right?

Comments (6)

  1. William Weber (WjcW)

    I could really care less either way…

    But why do you think we are obliged to ‘swear on the bible’ in court testimony, but somehow, Christ in Christmas is offensive…

    The constitution really just says “Congress shall pass no law establishing….”

    Congress, not the states, not the local football coach who leads a prayer before his game…

    And LAW, not saying a prayer, displaying a sign, etc, etc…

    Doesn’t it seem that these battles over religious displays are picked and chosen? Why wouldn’t people be all over that bible thing in court?

  2. southernbluedog

    … I think it should be removed. It doesn’t offend me. Honestly, I don’t care who gets offended by stuff like this. But we live in a country that is based on laws (Constitution) and not on emotions and feelings (or so I’d like to think). I have a huge problem with the arguments made by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. They should have started out talking about the Constitution rather than someone’s feelings. As one resident said, if you don’t like it, don’t look up.

    The county does have jurisdiction over the road. They set the speed limit, are responsible for snow removal, etc. Other than lobbying the county, Pitman has no authority to make direct decisions about the road.

    I’m sure the county had no idea someone hung up the banner. And I’m sure someone within Pitman’s municipal government asked the fire department to hang the banner. Even if the banner is private property and is attached to private property, the average person driving through that town wouldn’t be able to tell the difference and they would assume it’s a banner officially endorsed by the government.

    And while there is no religious test to live in Pitman, the residents generally frown upon non-whites and non-Christians. No, I’m not kidding. I personally believe the residents of Pitman would be more relaxed if they had a bar in their town, but I guess Carolina Blue isn’t too far of a walk/drive.

  3. ken bank

    The article I read with the lawyer’s response was that this was a zoning issue and so long as the banner was attached to private property and the appropriate sign permit was obtained the town does not have jurisdiction. Of course, the FFRF can apply to put up a sign of their own, and if they satisfy the requirements for a permit they should be free to do so. If they are denied a permit for no relevant reason, then they have grounds to file a lawsuit.



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