NJ man double-crossed by town for displaying two crosses in front yard

ADF attorneys send letter urging mayor to discontinue enforcement of legally problematic ordinance
Friday, July 01, 2011

UPDATE (8/1/11):  ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs:  “It’s ridiculous to stop citizens from displaying a cross on their own property.  That’s why we are encouraged that the township attorney has informed us that he is recommending changes to Livingston’s ordinance so no one can use it to apply to crosses outside of the township’s right of way.  We appreciate this concern for the constitutionally protected rights of residents and look forward to the township’s adoption of this proposed change.”

ADF attorney sound bite (7/1/11):  Jon Scruggs

LIVINGSTON, N.J. — The Alliance Defense Fund sent a letter to the township of Livingston Friday that urges officials to stop using a town ordinance to prohibit a resident from displaying crosses in various areas of his own front yard. Police ordered the homeowner to take down a cross he had affixed to a tree in celebration of Lent after a neighbor opposed to his religious display complained.

“It’s ridiculous to stop citizens from displaying a cross on their own property,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “The Constitution guarantees the right of Americans to express their religious beliefs in this fashion, and no local ordinance can trump that. In this case, however, the ordinance itself doesn’t actually even prohibit these crosses. The law is being used in a vague fashion to stop him from doing what he wishes on his own private property.”

In April, Patrick Racaniello displayed a 31-by-19-inch wooden cross on a tree in his front yard to celebrate the season of Lent. When an irate neighbor screamed objections about the cross at him and his family, Racaniello called the police, who later ordered him to remove the cross because it was located on a tree within eight feet from the curb.  Fearing a citation, Racaniello complied.

Still desiring to display his cross, Racaniello built a 6-by-4-foot wooden cross and placed it in his yard nine feet from the curb. Township officials told him that he was again in violation of Livingston Ordinance 178-11 and that the township requires a 10-foot right-of-way into his yard. The zoning inspector then sent Racaniello a letter that demanded he “move the cross to another location on your property, outside of the Township right-of-way and not on any tree….”

Racaniello also wants to display a cross on a tree further back in his yard, but he is refraining from doing so out of fear of reprisal from zoning officials, who are now prohibiting him from displaying a cross on any tree on his property.
The ADF letter explains, “Livingston cannot completely ban such a unique mode of expression on private property…. But there is a second problem with Livingston’s actions:  Livingston is applying its ordinance in a vague way to prohibit Racaniello’s cross…. The express language in Ordinance 178-11 simply does not prohibit what Racaniello wants to do.”
  • Pronunciation guide: Racaniello (RACK’-uh-nell-oh)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.