new jersey

Christie’s Vaccine Statements Aside, N.J. Already Allows Parents to Refuse on Religious Grounds

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Brian Snyder / RNS

Jayden Mercado gets an influenza vaccine at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Brian Snyder / RNS

Gov. Chris Christie created a stir during a trade trip to London this week when he defended parents’ right to decide whether their children should get mandated vaccines — remarks that a spokesman quickly clarified by saying the governor “believes vaccines are an important public health protection.”

Back home in New Jersey, where Christie’s health commissioner has been a vocal advocate for vaccinations, parents already have the right to make those decisions if they put in writing that accepting vaccines violates their religious beliefs.  

In the 2013-14 school year, nearly 9,000 New Jersey children used a religious exemption to decline immunizations that under state law children must receive in order to attend school. The largest number of exemptions were sought in Hunterdon, Monmouth, Warren, and Sussex counties, according to state education department data.  

A parent need only submit a signed statement indicating “immunization interferes with the free exercise of the pupil’s religious rights,” according to the health department website.

Parents do not need to produce a letter from a clergy member or cite religious doctrine.

New Jersey Nun on the Path to Sainthood

Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich college photo. Photo courtesy of Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth/RNS.

New Jersey is often dismissed as a cultural wasteland of traffic jams and suburban sprawl, mobster graveyards and lost dreams — source material for native son rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.

But soon the state may also be known as home of the latest American saint, a Bayonne-born nun who is to be beatified in Newark next month.

The beatification of Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, who died in 1927 at the age of 26, puts her one step away from formal canonization.

If Demjanovich does make the final hurdle, she would become just the second person born in the U.S. ever to be named a saint, and it would give New Jersey something to brag about — albeit humbly, no doubt.

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie Won’t Appeal Gay Marriage Rulings

Photo by Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal – courtesy The Star-Ledger/RNS

Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday that he was dropping the fight against same-sex marriage in New Jersey by withdrawing his appeal of a major case that was being heard by the state Supreme Court.

Starting one minute after midnight, gay couples have been getting married after the Supreme Court refused on Friday to delay the first weddings while it heard Christie’s appeal of a lower-court ruling that legalized gay marriage last month.

Christie said the court, in rejecting his plea for a stay, had made strong statements that settled the larger case.

Judge in N.J. Same-Sex Marriage Case has Deep Catholic Roots

Judge Mary Jacobson in her Mercer County courtroom. Photo by Frank Jacobs III / courtesy The Star-Ledger. Via RNS.

The judge who declared same-sex marriage legal in New Jersey was raised a Catholic in Bayonne, a place where the locals still use their church — not their neighborhood — to define where they’re from.

Judge Mary Jacobson graduated in 1971 from Holy Family Academy, a since-shuttered all-girls Catholic high school near her home.

“In Bayonne, you identified yourself by your parish,” said Thomas Olivieri, a retired Superior Court judge in Hudson County and a Bayonne native. “Mary’s family was from St. Mary’s parish. Ours was from St. Vinny’s. We’re both very proud of where we came from.”

Orthodox Rabbis Charged in Jewish Divorce Shakedown Plot

Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland on 91 West Carlton Road in Suffern, NY. Photo via RNS, by Tim Farrell/courtesy The Star-Ledger

In a bizarre case involving threats of kidnapping, beatings, and physical torture — including the use of an electric cattle prod — two rabbis were charged in New Jersey in a scheme to force men to grant their wives religious divorces.

Two others were also charged in the case, which grew out of an undercover sting operation involving a female FBI agent who posed as a member of the Orthodox community seeking a divorce.

As many as six others may also be charged, officials said.

Water Initiatives Get Congregations to Pledge to Conserve

Children from Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., under the sign for Spalsh! Kid's Camp. Photo via RNS/courtesy Betsy LaVela

At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.

In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.

In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.

Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.

N.J. Gay Conversion Therapy Ban Challenged in Federal Court

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie in March, L.E.MORMILE /

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie in March, L.E.MORMILE /

New Jersey’s newly enacted ban on gay-to-straight conversion therapy for minors violates a licensed therapist’s obligation to “respect the rights of clients to make decisions,” according to a federal lawsuit filed by a Christian counselors group and professionals who use the practice.

The law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Aug 19, bars any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor from using therapies to change sexual orientation of children under age 18. Offenders jeopardize their licensed status under the new law, which does not apply to clergy or anyone who is not licensed by the state.

New Jersey is the second state in the nation to ban therapy that purports to change a child’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. California enacted the first ban, but Liberty Counsel, a national religious-based legal and public policy group, filed an injunction it before it took effect earlier this year. A judge overseeing the case heard arguments in April and has not issued a decision.

Gov. Chris Christie, a Catholic, Tiptoes on Gay Marriage

Photo courtesy RNS/

NJ Gov. Chris Christie – red gov in a blue state – is walking a fine line on gay marriage. Photo courtesy RNS/

As activists push states to recognize gay marriages, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — conservative Republican governor in a blue state and a 2016 presidential possibility — is walking a fine line between two electorates and two elections.

Christie vetoed same-sex marriage legislation last year and severely criticized the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a ban on federal rights for same-sex married couples. At the same time, he is “adamant” that same-sex couples deserve equal legal protection, wants a referendum on gay marriage, and vows to abide by a same-sex marriage law if New Jersey voters approve it.

He’s tiptoeing between constituencies. First are the voters of New Jersey: polls show they favor same-sex marriage, and Christie wants them to re-elect him in November by a big margin.

Muslims Detail Fear from NYPD Spy Probe

Muslim and civil rights organizations say a New York Police Department program to secretly monitor Islamic communities has created so much fear and suspicion among Muslims that many find it impossible to lead normal lives.

A new 56-page report, “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims,” details how the NYPD’s covert surveillance caused Muslims to refrain from activism and change their appearance so as not to appear too Muslim, and sowed suspicion among community members.

As a result, the Monday report asserts, trust between Muslims and police has broken down. The program, in which NYPD policemen secretly visited mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and student and civic associations beyond New York’s five boroughs, was established in 2001 but uncovered by The Associated Press in 2011.

A spokesperson for the NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Muslims Sue to Stop NYPD Spying Program

RNS photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly. RNS photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Muslim civil rights activists are headed to court to end a New York City Police Department program that they say violates their constitutional rights by spying on Muslims based only on their religion.

The lawsuit, Hassan et al. v. City of New York, is the first legal challenge against the NYPD's alleged spying and profiling of Muslim Americans in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that was first reported by The Associated Press last year. The suit, to be filed June 6 in a federal court in New Jersey, seeks an “immediate end” to the NYPD surveillance program, and calls for the NYPD to destroy all records of information obtained through the program.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a San Francisco-based civil rights group representing the plaintiffs, said civil rights groups, congressmen, and other officials have called on U.S., New York, and New Jersey officials to investigate the NYPD’s alleged spying, but to no avail.

“It’s come to the point that the community feels like politicians have failed them, so now they’re turning to the courts to seek justice,” Khera said.