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Atheists File Suit Against Bergen Shelter Over 'Blessing Of The Animals'

The Bergen County Animal Shelter held its annual blessing of the animals in October.
The Bergen County Animal Shelter held its annual blessing of the animals in October. Photo Credit: Facebook: Bergen County Animal Shelter

TETERBORO, N.J. – An atheist group has filed a lawsuit against the Bergen County Animal Shelter in Teterboro, claiming the shelter’s annual blessing of the animals event is unconstitutional.

Cranford-based American Atheists Inc. and member Candice Yaacobi of North Arlington filed the 16-page complaint in federal court in Newark this month.

The suit claims that by hosting Reverend Kenneth Reihl of the Franciscan Order of the Divine Mercy in North Arlington, who performed blessings in 2016 and 2017, the shelter “devoted public resources and employee time to the performance of religious rituals.”

“Defendants’ decision to promote the 2016 and 2017 ‘Blessing of the Animals’ rituals, encouraging area residents to bring their pets to the BCAS to be ‘blessed,’ and posting photographs of the rituals, accompanied by thanks to Reihl for the ‘treasured occasion,’ sent the unmistakable message that the government endorsed the religious views espoused by Reihl,” the lawsuit states.

A Bergen County spokesperson declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

American Atheists, which is dedicated to achieving equality for atheists, and advancing and preserving the complete separation of church and state, is seeking a trial by jury, to stop the county from hosting future blessings, as well as attorney’s fees.

CLICK HERE to read the full complaint.

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