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December 05, 2015

N.J. councilwoman resigns over 'exclusionary' Christmas tree lighting

Charlene Storey defends decision against those who say it's political correctness run amok

Politics Religion
120515_StoreyRosellePark Contributed Art/Roselle Park News

Charlene Storey resigned from Roselle Park City Council after a vote was held to change the name of a community tree lighting event.

As the holiday season gets into full swing, one New Jersey councilwoman has decided an "exclusionary" name change to an annual tree lighting ceremony is too much a matter of conscience for her to remain with the city council.

In Union County, Roselle Park Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey officially submitted her resignation Saturday after her fellow council members held a vote to change the name of the event from "Annual Holiday Tree Lighting" to "Annual Christmas Tree Lighting," according to the Roselle Park News.

The second highest-ranking council member and the town's only woman to serve as an elected official, Storey explained her decision in a statement.

Yes, Christmas is a cultural holiday as well as a religious one. And I like Christmas trees and the happy spirit that usually pervades this season.
But the Mayor proposed, and most of Council voted, to change a key word in the name of the Borough’s annual tree-lighting event from a neutral, inclusive term back to a religious one.

The name of the event was previously changed from "Christmas" to "Annual" in the mid-1990's following a court case surrounding a Jersey City holiday display that contained multiple religious symbols on municipal grounds.

On Thursday night, Roselle Park Mayor Carl Hokanson held a vote on flipping the event back to Christmas. Storey, who said she was unaware the vote had been on the agenda, decided to take a stand after her fellow legislators voted 4-2 in favor of the change.

Despite criticism that she's taken her liberalism and political correctness too far, Storey maintains that neutral terminology is standard among municipalities in the area. Quoting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Storey argues that the switch “sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.”

This isn’t a minor matter of “political correctness.” It is a fundamental issue of freedom of religion – one of the basic freedoms that tens of thousands of Americans, including my uncle, died to defend over the years.

According to, Mayor Hokanson, whom Storey praised as a promising leader for Roselle Park, remarked only that, "Everybody's entitled to his beliefs."

Asked about future plans, Storey told the Roselle Park News she hopes to find new wasy to serve the community.

“You can represent people in different ways and, in some ways, you are free to speak more openly as a resident than you are as an elected official.”

Storey joined the six-member council in January 2013 and her term was scheduled to run until December 2017. Her resignation takes effect January 7.