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Claremont Man Says Councilor Threatened Him Over Holiday Display

  • Claremont City Councilor Jonathan Stone at a meeting in Claremont, N.H., on May 9, 2018. Stone represents Ward III. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/20/2018 11:27:05 PM
Modified: 12/20/2018 11:53:31 PM

Claremont — The city resident who last week asked for the removal of religious displays from Broad Street Park says he and his family continue to be subjected to hateful and threatening comments online, and he blames a sitting city councilor for helping to fuel the rhetoric.

Sam Killay, an atheist who moved to Claremont in 2011, is requesting that the city remove a nativity scene and menorah from its holiday display downtown. The decades-old tradition amounts to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the First Amendment, he argues.

But rather than debate the issue civilly, Killay says opponents have sent threatening messages to his wife and spread their personal information to followers online. He said that includes Ward 3 Councilor Jonathan Stone, who disseminated photos of the couple and shared their work information on Sunday night in a post on his personal Facebook page.

“As a city councilor, he is expected to conduct himself in a certain manner because his conduct represents the city,” Killay said in an interview on Thursday. “There is none of that with Mr. Stone. He is the furthest thing from impartial as you can possibly be. And honestly, he is being downright menacing.”

The thread on Stone’s Facebook page starts with a link to a story about Killay, and is followed by photos of his wedding and insults.

In one comment, Stone speculates that Killay’s concerns about the display are the result of “mental health issues.” In another, he says “I am sure he is challenged on what bathroom to use daily as well...”

Killay describes comments from others in the thread as threatening, and says he took his concerns to Claremont Police, who now are looking into the matter.

“I’m aware of a thread on Facebook and (Killay’s) family has alerted police to it,” said Police Chief Mark Chase, who declined to say whether a criminal investigation is ongoing, or whether any action has been taken.

But Stone argues that none of the posts threaten Killay, and are only meant to “acknowledge who he is.” He also blamed Killay for starting the debate by “threatening” the city to change its tradition.

“The fact that he made more or less threatening demands changes the whole avenue versus making a request,” Stone said during an interview on Thursday at his firearms business, Black Op Arms. “I don’t think you come to a governing body and give out demands, threats.”

“If you’re going to poke a bear, you’re probably going to get pushback. We all have to stand by our convictions,” he added.

During the City Council’s public comment portion last week, Killay asked Claremont to “demonstrate respect for our nation’s values by removing inappropriate and partisan religious displays from our public land.”

He has since said that if the city fails to remove the religious symbols, he might apply for permission to erect satanic symbols in the park or pursue legal action.

When asked whether a city official should make disparaging comments online, Stone defended the Facebook thread as part of his First Amendment rights.

“I don’t think you give watered-down constitutional rights or First Amendment rights as a councilor, or a police officer, a fireman or a hitchhiker,” he said. “I think it’s important that if people want to have adult conversations, they should do so (and) be polite to some extent.”

Still, Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett said the City Council plans to re-evaluate its code of conduct because of the incident.

“We, as a council, have got to not only discuss the issue of the holiday display in Broad Street Park, but we also have to update our code of conduct,” she said in a phone interview.

Claremont’s code of conduct says that all officials “must take responsible steps to instill in the general public that their votes and/or decisions are unbiased and based solely on the merits of the matter and the materials and/or evidence presented.”

The code also advises against officials acting on situations in which “they are biased (and) have preconceived points of view.”

While the values instilled in the code still are valid, the document hasn’t been updated since 2003, and there’s no section that addresses behavior on social media, Lovett said.

“Councilors represent everybody in their area of responsibility and we may not always agree or disagree with the people we represent, but we need to represent all people in a way that’s professional,” she said.

Lovett went on to say that she understands why the debate over Broad Street Park has gotten so heated.

The display goes back decades, and many people are emotionally attached to memories there, she said.

Lovett said on Thursday night after a nonpublic session on an unrelated matter that the council narrowly decided it would discuss the holiday display issue at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 9.

But Killay says the response has proved deeply disturbing to his wife, who no longer feels safe in the city.

“She doesn’t even fully agree, she had nothing to do with it. Please keep her out of it,” Killay said. “Anybody should be conducting themselves civilly. We’re supposed to be able to do that.”

As Killay spoke about his concerns, a woman driving past Broad Street Park rolled down her windows.

“Hey, if you don’t like Claremont, get the hell out of here,” she yelled. “Go back to where you came from.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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