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State v. Cameron

Decided: February 9, 1982.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY
v.
ROBERT J. CAMERON, DEFENDANT



Meredith, J.s.c.

Meredith

This case centers on the question of whether a municipality, in the exercise of its zoning power, may exclude places of worship from zones restricted to single-family dwellings.

I

The Reverend Robert J. Cameron appeared before the Municipal Court of Franklin Township on a charge of having violated a provision of the township's zoning ordinance. The Reverend, a Presbyter of the Reformed Episcopal Church, lives in a single-family home located in a zone of the township in which such

dwellings are the only permitted use. The complaint filed against Reverend Cameron is based on the allegation that he regularly held church services in his home. Appearing in the municipal court pro se , the Reverend, who had not sought a variance, attacked the constitutionality of the Ordinance and its application to him. He also claimed that the proceedings initiated against him were defective in various respects. The municipal judge rejected these arguments and found the Reverend guilty as charged. No penalty was assessed but Reverend Cameron was ordered to cease holding services in his home on pain of a $500 fine for each future violation. He then appealed to this court under R. 3:23. Represented by counsel, he acknowledges that his appeal operates as a waiver of defects in the record, see R. 3:23-8(c), but he continues to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance and its application to him. The arguments he presents in support of his position will be addressed after a brief statement of the salient facts.

II

Reverend Cameron is the minister of a "formative congregation" known as the "Mount Carmel Reformed Episcopal Church." Until sometime in the spring of 1981 the congregation held its advertised Sunday services in a Franklin Township school. Apparently it was an increase in rent that led to the transfer of these services to the Reverend's home at that time. In a sworn affidavit the Reverend stated that despite a diligent search for a permanent location, "the least expensive acceptable" one that he could find, consisting of "1000 square feet of store front space," cost $350 a month, a sum that the congregation "cannot afford to pay." The use of temporary facilities would be a hardship, his affidavit continues, because the congregation's services require the use of religious articles, such as lectern and pulpit, that are heavy, difficult to transport and subject to accidental damage when stored. In addition, "the solemnity of the service is depreciated by secular surroundings." The Reverend's affidavit concludes with the statement that in

his church, as well as in many others, it is a traditional practice for the services of a "fledgling congregation" to be held in the home of its minister or one of its members "until a permanent 'church' location can be obtained."

After moving its Sunday services into Reverend Cameron's home, the congregation continued to advertise them in a local newspaper. See The Home News , June 13, 1981, "In the churches," page 5 ("The 11 a.m. service of Mount Carmel Reformed Episcopal Church will take place at [Reverend Cameron's residence], in the Somerset section [of Franklin Township], with the Rev. Robert J. Cameron preaching."). At the hearing the Reverend's wife testified that this advertisement was taken out of the newspaper after a few weeks and that subsequently attendance at services was by invitation only, with invitations extended to "people that we know, we meet [ sic ]."

Other testimony describing the services held in Reverend Cameron's home may be summarized as follows. Until they were halted by court order, these services were held from 11 a.m. to noon almost every Sunday, first in the Reverend's living room, then in a room that he had recently added to his house "for activities of the owner," to quote his building permit application of April 29, 1981. The services included prayers, singing and preaching, and were regularly attended by a number of people. A neighbor complained that he could hear the sermon and singing in his own home, some 80 feet from the Reverend's, and that cars parked on the street by those attending services hindered the passage of traffic. These statements were supported by the observations of the township's Chief Code Enforcer. He testified that while in the vicinity of the Cameron residence on Sunday, August 30, 1981, between 10:45 and 11:45 a.m., he heard vocal church music emanating from the Reverend's house and saw 14 cars parked in front of it, seven in the driveway and seven in the street. He also testified that the Reverend's house was located in the R-15 residential zone of the township.

Turning now to the Franklin Township zoning ordinance, the zones it establishes, with their pertinent specifications, are as follows:

Minimum

Lot Size Maximum %

(Interior Lots) of Lot

Zones (sq. ft.) Coverage

R-R - Rural-Residential R-R 100,000 10

R-A - Residential-Agricultural R-A 50,000 10

R-40 & R-40(1) - Residential R-40/40(1) 40,000 10

R-20 - Residential R-20 20,000 15

R-15 - Residential R-15 ...


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