Montclair clergy plead not guilty following DREAM Act sit-in
By ERIN ROLL
Three Montclair clergy members had their first day in court on Tuesday, but it’s not over yet.
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet and Revs. Ann Ralosky and John Rogers, both of First Congregational Church, made an appearance along with three other clergy and activists in Westfield Municipal Court on Tuesday. All six entered a plea of not guilty.
The six had been arrested while protesting at Rep. Leonard Lance's office on Feb. 6.
Ralosky said that the clergy members had intended to enter a guilty plea, but couldn’t because the prosecuting attorney was not present. “That meant that we could not plead guilty, as we were planning to do,” she said.
A representative for the municipal court said Tuesday that the guilty plea could not be entered because the complainant in the case was not present.
The next phase, besides setting up a follow-up court date, includes having a meeting with the prosecutor, Ralosky said.
Ralosky said that the conference was all part of the larger, ongoing effort to counteract the current narrative about DACA and the Dream Act coming from the current administration.
“Again, the opportunity to be there to tell the other side of the story,” she said, and to share the reality that Dreamers are experiencing. So we’re committed to just doing what we need to do within the legal system.
The Feb. 6 rally had been organized to call on Rep. Lance to support the Dream Act and DACA. It was planned by several state and regional groups, including Faith in New Jersey.
At one point during the rally, Tepperman, Ralosky, Rogers and the other three clergy went inside Lance’s office, asking to read an open letter encouraging the congressman and his staff to show support for DACA and the Dream Act. The group was arrested later that afternoon when members of Lance’s office staff called the police.
In a statement issued just after the rally, a spokesperson for Lance said that the congressman was supportive of the Dream Act, and would be glad to set up a meeting to speak with the clergy.
Faith in New Jersey posted an announcement on its Facebook page that there would be a press conference following the clergy’s arraignment. The group also posted a photo of the clergy sitting in the courtroom.
“We must continue to push members of Congress across the US to stand advance a clean Dream Act. No, we will not support the militarization of innocent people in our southern borders,” the group said.
“We’re doing well, we’re grateful for the support that has been offered to us, and statements of solidarity,” Tepperman said on Tuesday.
There were a large number of Dreamers in attendance, he said, along with members of First Congregational and Bnai Keshet’s respective congregations.
Tepperman said that the clergy and community would keep working with Faith in New Jersey on action to help support the Dream Act and DACA. “It says in the Torah and the Bible that it is our obligation to protect the stranger. There should be one law for stranger and citizen alike.”
“The process is exhausting, but nothing approaches the agony that the Dreamers experience every day,” Ralosky said.