November 2015 Church & State | People & Events

A New Jersey town withdrew its official sponsorship of an event that featured a live online video broadcast of a papal mass after receiving a complaint from Americans United.

Cape May, N.J., had planned to show a live stream of Pope Francis’ Sept. 27 public mass in Philadelphia at a government-owned building, the Cape May Convention Hall. Tickets for the event were also distributed at city hall.

On Sept. 10, Americans United sent a letter to town officials, asking that they end their sponsorship of the event because failure to do so would violate the First Amendment. Additionally, AU suggested that the city find a private sponsor and charge that group the standard rental rate for use of the convention hall.

The city ultimately found a sponsor, the Cape May Ministerium, which is an inter-denominational clergy group, the Press of Atlantic City reported. Anthony Monzo, an attorney for the town, told the newspaper that the city did not charge a rental fee for the sectarian organization because previous events sponsored by non-profits were allowed without a rental fee – regardless of the sponsor’s affiliation.

Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser said he was satisfied with those changes.

“The city attorney sent us a letter yesterday that confirmed the city would no longer be a sponsor of the event and will no longer be distributing tickets at City Hall,” he told the Press. “There’s no need for litigation, but we’ll continue watching the situation to make sure the city lives up to its word and continues to remain separate from the sponsorship of the event.”