After 68 days in front of the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library, the “Kneeling Soldier At Cross” memorial was removed yesterday afternoon at the behest of Mayor Carl Hokanson.
What started out as a donation from Carl Hokanson, acting as a private resident, has ended in a lawsuit filed by the American Humanist Association and Gregory Storey along with his wife, Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey – acting as a private citizen – against Carl Hokanson in his capacity as mayor and the Borough of Roselle Park for approving its placement at the library.
Even though Mayor Hokanson – over the weekend – made a statement to TAPintoRoselle/Roselle Park (link) that he would “temporarily remove the ‘Kneeling Soldier’ while the Storey lawsuit plays out in court.”, this action does not end the lawsuit that was filed on September 30th. This is due, in part, to the mayor’s use of the word ‘temporary’ in his statement.
David Niose, the legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which is the legal arm of the American Humanist Association (AHA), commented, “As far as the removal goes . . . it doesn’t really change anything as far as the lawsuit. I think the mayor made it pretty clear that he’s just removing it temporarily, for some reason; presumably due to the litigation. He has every intention of putting it back up and he thinks it belongs up so the issue still needs to be resolved in the courts.”
When asked whether the organization’s concerns would have been resolved if the mayor had removed the memorial before the lawsuit was filed, Mr. Niose stated, “It may have, as long as he acknowledged that it wasn’t going to be put back up.”
Additionally, an acknowledgement from the borough regarding the Establishment Clause violation also may have resolved the matter, according to the AHA spokesman.
Charlene Storey stated that she would not comment on the matter due to litigation other than to say, “This doesn’t end the lawsuit. First of all, it’s temporary. The mayor stated it was temporary. Secondly, it’s not just a matter now with the mayor, it’s actions by council. If it [was removed] before council voted to accept it and to place it at the library, there would have been no lawsuit.”
Sources familiar with the matter have stated that the borough’s insurer, New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund (NJiif), would not cover the borough for any litigation if the municipality chose to go ahead and fight the lawsuit. Council approved accepting the donation and its placement before receiving any advice from NJiiF at the August 18th Mayor & Council meeting. At that meeting, Roger Byron, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute – a law firm that has offered to defend the municipality in case of a lawsuit – was in attendance.
Attempts to reach Mayor Hokanson, the NJiiF, and Roger Byron from First Liberty Institute were unsuccessful.