The Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, DVAU, is proud to have played a role in a recent action taken by Americans United.
DVAU learned from a dedicated chapter member that the mayor of the City of Cape May, New Jersey, had made plans to host a live broadcast of Pope Francis’ Mass in Philadelphia during the Papal Visit, which takes place from September 25-27 in our area. The announcement, which was also posted on Cape May’s official Facebook Page, said:
“City officials have organized a live broadcast at Cape May Convention Hall of the 4 p.m. papal Mass taking place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 27. The mayor said the broadcast will give locals and visitors who are unable or unwilling to be in Philadelphia that weekend a chance to watch the Mass in a group setting.”
The story in the Press of Atlantic City was published in August, but was brought to DVAU’s attention on September 9th, when our chapter member sent us a complaint after reading about the broadcast in the Philadelphia news. We investigated, and found a detailed story in the Press of Atlantic City: Cape May to stream pope’s Philly Mass at Convention Hall (Nicole Leonard, Staff Writer).
CAPE MAY — There may be a massive wave of people heading into Philadelphia in September for Pope Francis’ visit, but Cape May Mayor Edward J. Mahaney Jr. is banking on a mass exodus from Philly as well.
“The people who own homes in Philadelphia, if they have second homes at the shore or haven’t had vacation yet, they might take advantage of that weekend and leave town,” he said. “The influx is going to be coming to us, not from us.”
City officials have organized a live broadcast at Cape May Convention Hall of the 4 p.m. papal Mass taking place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 27. The mayor said the broadcast will give locals and visitors who are unable or unwilling to be in Philadelphia that weekend a chance to watch the Mass in a group setting.
The Pope’s visit to the city will result in 25 miles of highway and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway being shut down, as well as a ban on cars entering a section of downtown Philly. It’s expected that each weekend day will draw more than 1 million people into Philadelphia. Subway routes and stops will be altered, and public schools, some city offices and business will shut down as early as Wednesday, Sept. 23.
For those looking to watch from a distance, Convention Hall can seat as many as 800 people for the broadcast, which will be shown on a large, ceiling-mounted screen. Mahaney said a commercial television station in Philadelphia will provide the telecast and video will be fed into the hall through Comcast.
“At first, I wondered if people would just stay in their homes to watch it on television,” he said. “But people have told me they would rather see this historic event in a group setting to be able discuss it with each other and feel as if they’re in a place of worship.”
After the DVAU Chapter reported this story to the Legal Department of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), we received word from AU’s Alex Luchenitser that the original complaint was cause for concern, and AU would address it. AU then sent a letter to the mayor and city council of Cape May, informing them that their plans of hosting a livestream of the Pope’s Mass would put the city in jeopardy of violating the First Amendment and New Jersey’s state constitution.
On the evening of September 11, news of AU’s letter broke on the Press of Atlantic City in an article written by Nicole Leonard, Legal group challenges Cape May’s papal broadcast plans.
CAPE MAY — The scheduled broadcast of a papal mass at the Cape May Convention Hall has hit some bumps in the road.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an education and legal group based in Washington, D.C., told Cape May officials Thursday that the city’s co-sponsorship of a Sept. 27 broadcast event violates the U.S. Constitution and the group will file a lawsuit if the city proceeds with its original plans.
“We haven’t seen any reports of any other city planning to live stream a papal event,” said Alex Luchenitser, the group’s associate legal director. “We’ve received various other complaints relating to the pope’s visit, but they concern other issues. This is the most egregious violation that’s been brought to our attention so far.”
Please visit the link to read the full story, including comments from AU’s Alex Luchenitser about how Cape May can rectify the situation so as to preserve the wall of separation between church and state.
DVAU President Janice Rael commented on the article in the Press, saying:
“New Jersey’s constitution is very clear in its prohibition of using taxpayer dollars to subsidize religious groups or events. It’s important that the City of Cape May does not give the appearance of endorsing one faith over another.”
Rael also thanked Americans United for protecting the Wall of Separation between church and state.
The story was picked up by Blue Jersey blogger “deciminyan,” who reported Americans United Puts Cape May City Government on Notice:
Recently, the Cape May city government announced that they will be streaming a live broadcast of the Papal Mass in their Convention Center and one of the outlets handling ticketing will be their City Hall. This is clearly a case of the government promoting a religious event.
When this was brought to the attention of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, they sprang into action. They sent a letter to the Cape May city government (see the letter below the fold) outlining how the event, as currently planned, may violate both the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions. Appropriate judicial precedents are cited, and AU goes on to provide suggestions on how this event may be provided without government sponsorship.
The DVAU Chapter is very pleased to have played a role in stopping this violation of separation of church and state. Americans United relies on its chapters and chapter members to be AU’s eyes and ears at the local level. If not for the report from a longtime chapter member, DVAU may not have learned about Cape May’s plans to host what its mayor called a “religious” event.
We ask all of you to be vigilant, and report any potential violation to the DVAU Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 856-881-1816. You can also file a complaint directly on Americans United’s website, here: https://au.org/get-involved/report-a-violation/form