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THURSDAY, May 26 — The Neptune school district’s attorney today sent the ACLU of New Jersey a certified copy of the school board resolution agreeing to the terms of the settlement between the two parties.

This is the final step in resolving the dispute.

The full text of the resolution, approved by the school board on Wednesday, is as follows:

WHEREAS, the Neptune Township Board of Education has, for more than 70 years, conducted its High School graduation ceremony at the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove; and

WHEREAS, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has raised various concerns both to the content of the graduation program and the use of the Great Auditorium as the graduation venue; and

WHEREAS, the Board and the ACLU have agreed to various changes to the High School graduation ceremony designed to address the ACLU’s concerns while preserving the Great Auditorium High School graduation tradition; and

WHEREAS, the Board seeks to memorialize its agreement with the ACLU in a formal Board Resolution.

NOW, THEREFORE, the Board of Education of the Township of Neptune, in the County of Monmouth, resolves as follows:

1. At the 2011 graduation ceremony and in the future, the religious sign on the choir entrance door will be covered;

2. At the 2011 graduation ceremony and in the future, the Board of Education will cover the two large electronic signs within the Great Auditorium so that they are not visible during the course of the graduation ceremony;

3. At the 2011 graduation ceremony and in the future, the Board of Education will not illuminate the cross on the front of the Great Auditorium while attendees and graduates are entering, participating in and leaving the graduation ceremony; and the entrance where the cross is displayed will not be the primary entrance and;

4. At the 2011 graduation ceremony and in the future, the Board of Education will not incorporate any hymn, prayers or other religious content into the graduation ceremony;

5. At the 2011 graduation ceremony and in the future, pupils and guests will enter the Great Auditorium through the doors located at the south, west and north sides of the building and no pupils or guests will be required to enter the Auditorium from the east side of the building where the cross is located.

So moved.

-0-

NOTE: For background on the dispute between the school board and the ACLU, go here.

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By Charles Layton

The Neptune Township Committee approved a resolution Monday night supporting continued use of Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium for high school graduation. Mayor Kevin McMillan said he “didn’t feel the students should be deprived of it. They’ve worked hard.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening to sue over the use of a place of worship for a public school graduation. The Neptune Board of Education has agreed to eliminate all religious content from the program, including an invocation and the playing of religious music, but the two sides are at an impasse over the presence of certain Christian symbols in and about the building, including the large white cross in front. The Camp Meeting Association, which owns the building, has refused the ACLU’s request that those symbols be covered over during the ceremony.

Committeeman Randy Bishop said, “The students themselves are quite upset about not being able to graduate there.”

As of now, it remains unclear whether the ACLU will follow through with its threat to try to block the use of the Auditorium in court. In effect, the two sides appear frozen in a game of chicken. Graduation is scheduled for June 17.

Bishop said there is no other venue available that is anywhere near as good as the Auditorium. It has been the site of Neptune graduation ceremonies for at least seven decades.

Committeeman Eric Houghtaling said he had attended several non-religious events in the Auditorium, including his own high school graduation, and had never paid much attention to the religious signs in the building. “At my graduation all I remember is the American flag” that lights up behind the stage.

For a more detailed account of the dispute, go here.

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Fox News meets Ocean Grove. Photo by Charles Layton

By Charles Layton and Paul Goldfinger

The dispute over Neptune High School’s use of the Great Auditorium for graduation ceremonies drew national attention on Wednesday, when the Fox News program “Fox and Friends” featured interviews about the issue. Fox also posted a story and a video report on its website.

The television segment was based on interviews with Neptune School Superintendent David Mooij and Rev. Scott Hoffman of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.

Also on Wednesday, a born-again Christian legal advocacy group announced that it had offered to represent Neptune High School in court, free of charge, in the event of a law suit.

The school district has been in negotiations with the American Civil Liberties Union — and under threat of legal action — over its use of the Ocean Grove Great Auditorium for high school graduation ceremonies. The ACLU is asking that certain religious signs, including the large white cross outside the building, be covered during this year’s graduation and that the practice of having a Christian invocation and Christian hymns as part of the program be discontinued. (Read our original story by clicking here.)

The legal advocacy group, Liberty Counsel, sent a letter to Mooij and the school board, dated May 17, saying it agrees with them that the school district “does not violate any student’s constitutional rights by simply using a church building to host graduation ceremonies.” The letter said that, “assuming we reach an agreement on strategy,” Liberty Counsel would be happy to represent the district and “cover all the legal costs.”

The organization describes itself as “a national public interest law firm specializing in constitutional law, particularly free speech, religious freedom, and church-state matters.” It has offices in Florida, Virginia, Texas and Washington, D.C. It’s press release and letter to Mooij can be found on its website: click here.

Mooij told Fox News that, as a result of negotiations with the ACLU, the district has already agreed to discontinue the practice of including an invocation and religious music in this year’s graduation ceremonies. However, the covering up of religious signs in and about the building has become the sticking point. Hoffman told Fox that the Camp Meeting would not agree to removing those signs. “The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association is a Christian ministry,” Hoffman said, “and we can’t change who we are.”

Both Hoffman and Mooij were interviewed on Tuesday by Lauren Green, a Fox religion correspondent. Hoffman told Blogfinger that his interview with Green was brief, because he sees the CMA as “peripheral” in the dispute. He did say he was “supportive of the school board.”

Graduation is scheduled for June 17. The ACLU is representing the grandmother of one of last year’s graduating seniors. The woman also has relatives scheduled to graduate from Neptune next year.

Fox and Friends Report May 18 2011

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