Cross words: man wages legal battle to put cross in his yard

A New Jersey man is arguing that he has a right  to be able to put a cross in his front yard — though local authorities disagree.


It started as a simple gesture.

But it could have implications far beyond the quiet Livingston street where Patrick Racaniello affixed a wooden cross on a tree in his front yard.

Township officials say Racaniello’s display, which he intended as a celebration of Lent, violated an ordinance that generally prohibits postings on a structure, including a tree, “calculated to attract the attention of the public.”

Advised of the ordinance, Racaniello removed the cross. The Sterling Drive resident, though, then built a second, much larger cross that he planted on his property — just within the township’s 10-foot right-of-way. Racaniello, again facing fines, took down that cross, too.

He also contacted the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, a coalition of Christian lawyers that, according to its website, advocates on behalf of “the spread of the Gospel.” The alliance told the township it may take the matter to court if officials don’t allow Racaniello to put the cross wherever he wants on his property.

“We believe this is private property, and therefore he has a right to engage in this expression,” Jonathan Scruggs, a lawyer for the alliance, said in an interview. “We believe that either cross is protected by the First Amendment.”

The judicial outcome of this conflict between an Essex County town and an Arizona legal group, scholars say, could go a long way to determine the reach of a 2000 federal land-use law intended to protect religious expression.

Racaniello, whom neighbors described as an entrepreneur, declined to answer questions, and referred all inquiries to the alliance.

Scruggs said he would wait for the township’s written response before the alliance decides whether to proceed with litigation.

Read the rest.


  1. Good thing we don’t have that kind of an ordinance here. I can look up and down our street and see Our Lady of Grace in a bathtub grotto (you stand the bathtub on end and spray paint it blue), several angel statues, St. Francis, yard gnomes, large ceramic mushrooms; there used to be a sea serpent but it was stolen. Compared to all that, a plain wooden cross seems quite tasteful and understated. Livingston Township would be well advised to pick their battles more wisely.

  2. naturgesetz says:

    One thing that seems to be implied in the article is that the township prohibits placing things within 10 feet of the curb so as to avoid distracting drivers. If that is the case, and it’s enforced against everybody as a public safety measure, then I don’t think they have a problem. But if it’s only big crosses that they don’t allow, I expect they’d lose in court.

  3. pagansister says:

    naturgesetz: I tend to agree with you—perhaps there is a prohibition on the nearness of the object to the curb. Otherwise–I don’t see any reason why the cross would be a problem. It is on the owner’s property.

  4. justamouse says:

    My previous neighbor of 8 years was a deacon and had two, huge crosses in his yard. I didn’t mind at all (obviously), but my thought had always been , his yard, his property, his taxes, his business.

    Just because someone has to look at them doesn’t mean they should be illegal. I see lots of things each day I wish were illegal, like people’s underwear :-) .

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