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N.J. Official Who Quit Over Tree Lighting: ‘I’m Not Against Christmas Trees’

The New Jersey councilwoman who abruptly resigned over the city's decision to add the word "Christmas" to their annual tree lighting ceremony, said upon rescinding her resignation this weekend that "I'm not against Christmas trees."

"I like Christmas trees and the happy spirit that usually pervades this season," Charlene Storey, the councilwoman-at-large in Roselle Park, also clarified in a statement when she announced her resignation Friday. "But the Mayor proposed, and most of Council voted, to change a key word in the name of the Borough's annual tree-lighting event from a neutral, inclusive term back to a religious one."

Storey, who has served as a council member since 2013, said she was resigning "on a matter of conscience and principle," because the tree lighting had been dubbed a "holiday tree lighting" since the 1990s, and she felt the new moniker "was clearly meant to put religion back into the public event."

"Had the name of this event never been changed to use a non-religious term, had it stayed with 'Christmas' instead of being changed to 'Holiday,' I could have accepted it as a cultural term," said Storey, who identifies as a Humanist and "non-believer."

Storey's resignation from the council in the city of about 13,000 garnered widespread attention. She rescinded her decision late Saturday after Roselle Park Mayor Carl Hokanson put her in charge of creating and chairing a diversity committee, the mayor said in a statement.

"I rescinded my resignation because the Mayor reached out to me, and agreed that I should head a religious diversity committee," Storey said in a separate statement

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"I'm not against Christmas trees," Storey added. "I'm against moving from an inclusive ceremony to an exclusive one — and spending public tax dollars on it."

Hokanson said in his statement that the new name for the tree lighting ceremony will remain in place, noting, "Storey still opposes the change."

"This isn't some 'silly P.C.-thing,'" Storey said. "It's a matter of respect."