Pinelands Commission Pulls Bait and Switch On Pipeline Hearing Location
Catholic Church Location Raises Separation of Church & State Issues
I just got an email from the Pinelands Commission advising of a change in location for the upcoming January 24, 2017 public hearing on the controversial South Jersey Gas pipeline. The email reads:
The New Jersey Pinelands Commission has rescheduled its next monthly meeting from January 13th to January 24th and will hold the meeting in the Parish Centre at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Pemberton Township, NJ. The changes in date and location were made in response to public comment asking for additional time and a larger meeting space.
Aside from throwing a monkey-wrench into the efforts of pipeline opponents to publicize and generate turnout for the hearing (e.g. printing fliers, postings and alerts to social media, etc about the prior location that all must now be corrected), the Commission’s change in venue raises at least two major concerns.
First, a Catholic Church is a totally inappropriate place to hold a public hearing.
A Church location is offensive to some – myself included – and it raises legal issues of an unconstitutional State endorsement of religion, in violation of the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I fired off the following note to the Commission:
Dear Pinelands Commission:
I just received your email advising me of a change in location for the scheduled Jan 24. public hearing on the SJG application.
I find it offensive to have to sit in pews and testify in a Catholic Church – as well as an inappropriate and unconstitutional state endorsement of a specific religion.
I demand that the Commission select a civic building with adequate capacity to allow meaningful comment.
Additionally, the change in location would require additional public notice.
Second, the change in location requires a brand new formal public notice. (Update: disregard – apparently the Commission has issued another public notice).
Finally, the cancellation and rescheduling of the Commission’s regular January 13 meeting reduces the public’s opportunity to comment on the pipeline. The public would have had an opportunity to organize and comment at the Jan 13 meeting – that won’t happen now.
I urge others who share my concerns to contact the Commission and demand a civic location, i.e. public building, with adequate capacity, additional hearings, and a meeting time suitable to those who work (i.e. the 9 am time is also totally inappropriate).