New Jersey Town Defends 'Christ in Christmas' Banner Against Activist Group, Atheists

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A national organization that promotes separation between church and state is urging officials in a New Jersey town to remove a "Keep Christ in Christmas" banner from a main thoroughfare.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit Wisconsin-based group, says the banner, which was paid for by a local Knights of Columbus chapter, violates the Constitution because it was posted by members of the town's fire department. It also hangs from two town-owned light posts over Broadway in Pitman, N.J., according to Andrew Seidel, the group's constitutional consultant.

"We got a complaint from a local resident who has to drive down that street every day," Seidel told on Wednesday. "He sees that sign and he feels like an outsider because of it."

Seidel said the complaint was from a local man who wishes to remain anonymous.

"The issue is that, to us, it appears to be city property," Seidel said. "It goes one of two ways: either it's city property or some level of government is endorsing that sign by allowing it to be stretched over a public street."

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Mayor Michael Batten said the town of less than 10,000 residents roughly 15 miles south of Philadelphia is a "very closely-knit community" that has seen a similar banner hanging over Broadway during the holiday season for the last half century. Batten said the sign, which he claims hangs on private property above a county road, will remain posted until he hears otherwise from the town's attorney.

"My concern is my community and an attorney for us is looking into some things and he will get back to us with his advice," Batten told "At that point, we will sit down as a council and discuss it."

Batten said the matter will likely be addressed during the town's next City Council meeting on Dec. 27.

"[The sign] will stay unless he comes back and tells us something different," he continued. "This is a community that feels very, very strongly about its beliefs."

Batten said he was contacted by several residents -- who identified themselves as atheists -- who said they were troubled by the controversy.

"This is an organization with 17,000 people nationwide; they have 300 members in the state of New Jersey," he said. "Stop and think about that -- that's not even a big neighborhood in the state of New Jersey. There are a lot of Christians in this country who feel strongly about their faith, as well as those who do not. ... We all need to live our lives and live and let live."

Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said the "Christ is Christmas" program has been in existence for more than 60 years, including TV and radio advertisements across the country. The current controversy is "politically correct nonsense," he said.

"We're trying to remind Christians that Christmas is a religious holiday," Anderson told "It's not about shopping. By keeping Christ in Christmas, we're just underlining the first six letters in the word Christmas. That's the message we're trying to remind people."

Asked if he would support the posting of a contrasting banner, perhaps by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Anderson said: "We have to have a certain amount of tolerance and a certain amount of respect for each other's viewpoints. Tolerance means listening to what others have to say; it does not mean to deprive others to make their views known."