New Jersey: Guidelines for allowed graduation celebrations clarified

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Update: Acting Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan has clarified the “wave parade” comment in his letter. After facing a heap of backlash on social media, Callahan made a statement during Governor Phil Murphy’s Monday coronavirus briefing.

He said:

“What I was hearing was that they were all going to be assembled at a school, at a town hall, and a football field, which would be in violation. They would be getting out of their cars to wave at people. People who are out of their cars, that was the issue.

“We could not prevent vehicles driving by – let’s say it’s a senior, him or her on their front porch, with parents. Those vehicles can go by. 

“It’s a great gesture to give that sense of solidarity. But when there are 50 people standing on top of each other on the curb of a hospital or in front of a high school, that’s where the problem comes in.”

 

TRENTON, NJ – In a letter to the Department of Education on Saturday, guidelines were laid out regarding celebrations for this year’s graduating seniors.

Obviously, there will be no graduation ceremonies, as schools are closed. There will be no huge parties, as there are social distancing guidelines in place.

But now, the guidelines say, there will also be no “wave parades,” which are when lines of cars drive by a person to wave, yell some encouraging words, maybe hold a sign, and then leave the area.

Yes, I’m serious.

New Jersey: Guidelines for allowed graduation celebrations clarified
Letter from the Office of the Attorney General in New Jersey

Colonel Patrick Callahan from the State Attorney General’s Office, State Director of Emergency Management, signed the letter which states:

“In the best interest of the health and safety of the public, in-person ceremonies, including graduations, all parades, including ‘wave parades,’ that invite people to gather at a certain location, proms and other similar celebrations violate the enumerated conditions of the order.”

Governor Phil Murphy has extended the state of emergency in New Jersey through June 7, although that does not include the stay at home order, which as of now is still indefinite pending further notification.

Callahan’s letter stated:

“[Governor Murphy’s order directs NJ residents] to remain at home except to obtain goods and services from identified essential businesses, to obtain takeout food/drink from dining establishments, to seek medical attention/law enforcement services, to visit family, report to work, exercise under specific guidelines, or leave home for educational, religious, or political reasons.

“It is also permissible to leave home for fear of health/safety concerns, or to leave home at the direction of law enforcement/government. But even when someone is leaving their home for a permissible reason, they are not allowed to participate in any gatherings.”

Apparently having people drive by a particular location and stay inside their vehicle is now considered a “gathering” in the State of New Jersey.

Virtual graduation ceremonies are now the only acceptable form of ceremony celebration.

Additionally, the Department of Education sent a memo which read, in part:

“Executive Order No. 107 (EO 107), signed on March 21, 2020, prohibits gatherings of individuals for parties, celebrations, and other social events, which includes all in-person graduation ceremonies.

“Since the Executive Orders will remain in effect until further notice, only virtual graduation ceremonies can be planned at this time.

  • “We recognize that this sudden disruption to the normal operating procedures could be jarring for school communities at all levels. The resilience and adaptivity required to thrive in the face of unprecedented situations are characteristics embodied by the Class of 2020. Recognizing that high school graduation is certainly a milestone for students and families, the Department has compiled tips and suggestions for holding virtual graduation ceremonies and related celebratory activities to honor this year’s graduating class while ensuring the health and safety of the school community during the COVID-19 emergency.
    “Virtual Celebrations- 
    • Virtual Graduation Ceremonies offer a number of ways to celebrate this year’s graduating class. From airing
    graduation messages on local network stations to designing virtual graduations on gaming platforms, virtual
    graduations offer districts an opportunity to involve the community in planning and facilitating a memorable
    ceremony. Below are some ideas for hosting a virtual ceremony:
    • Stream your ceremony on your district website or on another streaming service that includes
    prerecorded speeches or messages
    • Consider reaching out to celebrities or public figures to record speeches or messages for seniors in
    your school district
    • If resources allow, your district may consider developing a virtual reality graduation, where within a
    virtual graduation environment, student avatars participate in a graduation ceremony
    • Schools can also consider asking members of the graduating class to take a leading role in the graduation
    ceremony. Senior students can be asked in advance to send video messages wearing their cap and gown
    and/or other regalia. During the virtual ceremony, students and their families will hear prerecorded messages
    from speakers, edited together in the flow of a traditional graduation ceremony, and students’ names as well
    as messages will be announced with their photo displayed.
    Community Recognition-
    • Communities across the country have shown their support by making a special effort to recognize the Class of
    2020. Some examples include posting banners with students’ senior pictures around the school community,
    listing the names of graduates in the local newspaper, and creating yard signs for all students to post.
    • Some communities have secured digital billboards to publicize and celebrate the Class of 2020. The digital
    billboards display the students’ names and personalized messages developed by school staff and students.
    • We encourage school districts to coordinate any recognition efforts with various community stakeholders.”

If it makes you feel any better, graduating seniors, the Department of Education also said:

“We welcome you to share your virtual graduation celebration or related activities by using the hashtag #NJGrad2020 on social media.”

Because that’s just as exciting, right?

It’s unclear if this update to restrictions includes police and firefighters, who have been participating nationwide in events like birthday party drive-by parades and thanking health care workers by driving by the hospitals with lights and sirens.

It’s been said previously that Governor Murphy will “reluctantly” allow birthday party drive-by parades, but now with this order that may be taken away as well.

Murphy has a history of disregarding the rights of the residents in his state, which Law Enforcement Today has reported on in the past.

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Murdered officer's grave desecrated before headstone even placed

Here’s a story from mid-April that proves that statement.

Governor Phil Murphy was recently on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. Carlson was asking what gave Murphy the authority to suspend the Constitution. 

This question came after Carlson mentioned 15 people in a synagogue were arrested for being in a service together. 

“Now, the Bill of Rights, as you well know, protects American’s right, enshrines their right, to practice their religion as they see fit and to congregate together and assembled peacefully.

By what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights in issuing this order? How do you have the power to do that?”

Murphy’s answer was horrifying. 

“That’s above my pay grade Tucker. I wasn’t thinking about the Bill of Rights when we did this.”

Then echoing what many of us are thinking, Carlson said:

“Well, I can tell.”

 

Carlson also questioned the governor on his flip-flop in rationale.

Murphy originally justified the stay at home order that began on March 21 by saying that it was necessary to flatten the curve so that the healthcare system didn’t collapse.

However, he is now saying that he doesn’t foresee normal gatherings taking place until there are no more new cases of COVID-19. 

But after saying that liquor stores are able to stay open because experts say that it would have a huge impact on mental health and addiction if they were shut down, Carlson asked a couple of million dollar questions:

“You have closed church services, and synagogue services, and arrested people for attempting to attend them. Did anyone say that practicing your faith may be important to someone’s mental health?”

Murphy then walked a mile for a five-foot answer: 

“Listen, I think we have a lot of good, uh, good common ground with faith leaders of literally every faith who understand this. And by the way, whether it’s a liquor store, a pharmacy, a supermarket, we expect people to distance themselves from each other to wear face coverings, etc.

There is an enormous amount of faith going on virtually right now, a lot of practicing going on. We care very deeply about both physical health and mental health.”

Yeah, but that doesn’t answer the question, Phil. 

Carlson continued: 

“Of course, and I don’t want to be too persistent on this, but I think it is important. On what scientific basis did you decide that sitting in a church was much more dangerous than buying liquor in a liquor store?

And why is buying liquor more important for the social fabric? I don’t understand the reasoning. I don’t want to think it has anything to do with tax revenue.”

I bet it has a little to do with tax revenue. 

Murphy’s response: 

“It has nothing to do with tax revenue. Our revenues are so blown up, that would be a rounding error, trust me. This is not either or, it can be and both.

I have spoken to Cardinal Tobin, to the leaders of the Jewish community, of the Muslim community, and people are at peace where we have come out there. No one is happy. Everyone wants to get back to what they think of as the norm.

And, who could blame them? I want to do that as well. But I don’t think these are one versus the other. I think you can have both of these realities at the same time, and that is what we have in New Jersey right now.” 

Translation: I am going to talk for 38 seconds and not actually say anything relevant or answer your question in any way. 

So the question still remains for Murphy. How do you shut down churches but leave liquor stores open on the grounds of mental health?

After leaving the topic for a moment, Carlson came back to it. 

“How do you have the authority to order something that so clearly contravenes the Bill of Rights, the United States Constitution? Where do you get the authority to do that?”

The governor finally said something that was logical. You don’t have to agree with what he said, but we can at least acknowledge that there is room to debate his answer. 

“[We are not] denying someone their right to worship in any way. We have to find a different way to worship.  I think that is the point.”

I cannot speak to what other faiths teach, but as Christians, we are taught to respect and obey authority, until what those authorities enforce is in direct contradiction to God’s Word. 

I looked long and hard and could not find anything in the Bible about how we respond to a virus outbreak. And the only passage I could find that could be interpreted to mean that we should go to church in spite of the stay at home orders. 

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NASB) says:

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

But we can still gather together in some creative ways. Technology is a wonderful thing. 

However, I was able to find other passages of scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments. Among them are: 

Matthew 18:20 tells us:

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

According to that, my family of five can have church in our living room. 

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. 

In Matthew 4, Jesus Himself went into the wilderness alone for 40 days, to pray and fast. He isolated himself. 

That was the faith based part of the conversation. 

Now to the Constitutional part of it. 

Here is one perspective from our friend, Mike the Cop.

The 1st Amendment says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 

Do the stay at home orders in New Jersey and other states prohibit the free exercise of religious practices and traditions? That depends on which word you focus on.

If you look at the words establishment and exercise…then no. 

If you focus on free, then the answer is yes.  

We are not free to exercise many of the aspects of our faith and the traditions that are a part of our practices. When you consider that we just went through Holy Week and just finished Passover, it was especially hard.   

So what is the fine line between the faith part and the Constitutional part of the conversation? 

Common sense.

And it needs to be exercised by both sides, the government decision makers and the citizens asked to adhere to those decisions.

 For example, Governor Murphy cannot say that liquor stores are essential in assisting people with mental health and addiction but churches…not so much. Where is the logic or common sense in that decision? 

There isn’t any.

But on the flip side, there are a lot of people that are making decisions about their comings and goings based on what they want to do, and will not take into account the potential impacts on the greater community.

There has to be some give and take. 

I am as ardent a supporter of our Constitution as anyone. But I also believe that common sense and logic have to play a part in how we exercise our rights. 

Just because we can, doesn’t always mean that we should.  

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