(RNS) Lawn Cross Becomes First Amendment Flash Point

It started as a simple gesture.

But it could have implications far beyond the quiet New Jersey street where Patrick Racaniello affixed a wooden cross on a tree in his front yard.

Livingston Township officials say Racaniello’s display, which he intended as a celebration of Lent, violated an ordinance that generally prohibits postings on a structure, including a tree, “calculated to attract the attention of the public.”

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

10 comments on “(RNS) Lawn Cross Becomes First Amendment Flash Point

  1. NoVA Scout says:

    These are generally more complex cases than the school prayer cases. However, on the face of the article, it sounds like the local ordinance is probably unconstitutionally vague, whether applied to religious expression or anything else. I can’t imagine a court upholding a governmental ban on expression “calculated to attract the attention of the public.” The complexity sets in because local ordinances against the posting of advertising or large campaign posters have been upheld, on various grounds. But my money in this one is on the homeowner.

  2. Tomb01 says:

    So what would have been wrong with putting the second cross [b]completely[/b] on his own property instead of ‘just within the right of way’? While I sympathize with this guy, and believe the town is being obtuse, it also sounds like he is now trying to cause an issue….

  3. AnglicanFirst says:

    What if he has a bumper sticker with a fish symbol or a cross on it and he parks his vehicle alongside the curb in fron of his house? What if he has a pickup truck and he has a five foot tall cross in the cargo bed of his truck and he parks it in fron to his house?

  4. AnglicanFirst says:

    Please correct “…and he parks it in fron to his house?” in comment #3. above to read “…and he parks it in front of his house?”

  5. Br. Michael says:

    The article is not real clear on the critical facts, just where was the cross placed and the legal status of the realty on which it was placed? Was it on totally private property, or on an easement on which the city had the right to say what goes on it?

    The article states: “Advised of the ordinance, Racaniello removed the cross. But he then built a second, much larger cross that he planted on his property just within the township’s 10-foot right of way. Racaniello, again facing fines, took down that cross, too.”

    We don’t really know what is meant by “the township’s 10-foot right of way.” Was it an easement to place a sewer line? A easement for city access to something? We just don’t know and I don’t trust the press to recognize and properly report on the facts necessary to make an informed comment.

  6. Cennydd13 says:

    Hmmph, we don’t have these problems here! Faithful Catholics put their religious symbols on the side of buildings and think nothing of it. You’ll see shrines here and there, and nobody complains, nobody demands that they be removed…….and we’ve got 29 churches here in Los Banos……only one of which is Roman Catholic. Not a squeak from the City Council, either.

  7. Uh Clint says:

    …”an ordinance that generally prohibits postings on a structure, including a tree, ‘calculated to attract the attention of the public’ ”

    Interesting. This means that anyone who puts Christmas lights or decorations on their house should be fined for violating the ordinance, since they are putting “postings on a structure” which are clearly intended to “attract the attention”.

    This sounds like a well-intended ordinance that no one gave much thought to at the time it was written. But how much common sense does it take to realize that this ordinance, is far, far too broad in its scope?

  8. Catholic Mom says:

    Well, the wording makes it sound as if they are going after advertising of any type vs decoration. But I agree that the wording is probably unconstitutionally vague. I think what they are trying to say is that if you put up Christmas lights on your house, that is a decoration (which indeed is intended to be viewed by others but not as a means of sending a message). If have a statue of the Blessed Mother on your front lawn, that is a personal devotion. But if you put up a big sign that says “repent now!” that is a message that you have put up directed at the passing public. So, they are saying you can’t put up a sign promoting a political candidate or saying “eat at Joe’s pizza” or telling people to “repent now.” However, I fail to see how a cross on your property in fact falls into this category in the first place.

    However, as the saying goes, never attribute to evil what is more simply explained by stupidity. I have dealt many times with various township authorities and “intelligent” and “reasonable” have not always been the first reaction I have had to them. “Petty” “bureaucratic” and “in love with their own microcosm of power” have sometimes crossed my time however.

  9. Catholic Mom says:

    I meant to say “my mind” (such as it is).

  10. Cennydd13 says:

    I often wear religious pins on my shirts. Does this mean that they’ll try to ban those, too? Lotsa luck if they [b]do[/b] try it!