The Appignani Humanist Legal Center (APLC), the legal arm of the American Humanist Association – along with Gregory Storey and his wife, Councilwoman Charlene Storey – filed a lawsuit today in United States District Court, District of New Jersey against the Borough of Roselle Park and Mayor Carl Hokanson in his official capacity.
The 11-page complaint challenges the constitutionality of the borough’s approval of the Kneeling Soldier At Cross memorial. Additionally, the lawsuit takes issue with the installation, maintenance, and placement of the display in front of the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library. Council retroactively approved the placement of the memorial at the August 18th Mayor & Council meeting by a 3-2 vote; Councilwoman Storey and Mayor Hokanson both were recused and abstained from voting. This vote occurred after Carl Hokanson, as mayor, directed the Department of Public Works (DPW) to place the Kneeling Soldier At Cross memorial in front of the library on July 29th. The display was donated by Mr. Hokanson acting as a resident.
The constitutional violations referred to in the complaint relate to the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
In reaching out to Mrs. Storey, who filed the lawsuit as a private citizen, she stated that she would not comment on the matter due to the litigation. She added, when asked, that she has no plans to resign her seat as Council-At-Large.
Mayor Hokanson stated that neither he nor the borough’s attorney received the lawsuit as yet.
In between the August 18th vote and the filing of the lawsuit, two individuals have offered to donate similar memorials representing different beliefs – one with the Star of David and the other with the American Atheist emblem – and their donations were not approved or even placed as resolutions for a vote. The governing body expressed that information from the borough’s insurance broker should be provided before making any decision on the acceptance of those memorials. That reasoning to not accept those memorials was given even though council in August voted to accept the original display before NJIIF (New Jersey Interlocal Insurance Fund) – the municipality’s insurance carrier – was able to provide feedback on coverage for the approval of that memorial in case of a lawsuit.
A copy of the complaint is included below: