(Photo: Facebook/Dodger Nation)
A New Jersey town has been forced to remove a popular banner used to support its local high school football team after a small handful of residents complained that the banner's message referenced God.
The sports banner was hung from a train trestle in the downtown Waverly Place section of Madison, New Jersey by Dodger Nation, a local fan group for the town's high school football team, known as the Dodgers. The red and yellow sign read in large letters "Dodger Domination," and written below in smaller letters "One Nation Under God." The popular fan group, started in 2010, is not officially affiliated with the high school due to its practice of consuming alcohol at tailgate parties prior to games.
The banner's presence on the trestle resulted in a number of complaints from local residents, and they ultimately led to city supervisors deciding to take down the banner. Madison Mayor Robert Conley told NJ.com that he believes the fan group didn't consider the kind of ramifications such a banner would have in the community.
"In my interpretation, 'One nation under God' is not the best wording," Conley told the local paper. "It's probably not appropriate for a football team. It might have seemed like a great idea at the time, and that sometimes people read things differently."
However, despite the complaints, numerous residents have taken to the Dodger Nation Facebook page and local media outlets to speak out in support of the banner, urging others to help the banner be displayed across the town in other ways. One post urged fellow members of the Dodger Nation to place the banners in front of their homes.
"America is one nation under God [...] that's how we started and that's how we need to remain. Anyone who doesn't like that is free to leave […]That banner was only stating a fact and they have the 'freedom' to say what they want just like everyone else takes their liberty to say what they want. Put it back up please and God bless America," wrote Daniela Vincenza Mangini on the local News 12 website.
"We are becoming a nation of cowards afraid of anyone who complains. If they went through all the proper channels and were given permission to put it up then leave it up!! Freedom of speech is for all!" wrote another commenter, Majella LoBello.
As Mayor Conley added to NJ.com, although the banner had been approved by Madison's zoning office, it had not been approved by the NJ Transit System for being allowed to hang on a trestle. The banner has reportedly now been placed on the storefront of the local Main Street Subs by the owner.
Michael Waresk, an active member of the Dodger Nation group, told the Madison Eagle that the intent of the banner was to "spark positive energy and excitement around the [varsity football] Dodgers as they continue their amazing journey toward a possible fourth straight State Championship."
"There was never any intent to create any division within the community or to exclude or offend anyone or their religious affiliation," Waresk said, adding that he hopes the town can move past the event and unify to support their local high school football team.