Clergy say they’re being barred from praying at Menendez retrial

Posted: Updated:
NEWARK -

A group of local clergy members held a rally in Newark Thursday because they say that the Department of Justice is trying to keep them from praying at the upcoming retrial of Sen. Bob Menendez.

The Rev. Dr. Ronald Owens and a group of clergy supported the senator during his first trial. They prayed with Menendez before each day of the trial.

The Justice Department claims that the praying exerted "undue pressure" on the last jury. The lead prosecutor asked that the next jury be taken through a private entrance, mentioning that the previous jury had to pass by the "prayer circles.”

“Why would prayer bias somebody in what they're listening to in the sense of the court and the sense of the facts of the court?” Owens asks. “They're not supposed to listen to prayer and if they do, thank God for it. Maybe it would help them to make the right decision.”

Owens says that federal prosecutors are stepping on his group’s religious freedom by saying jurors shouldn't see them. He says that they will pray in court again during the retrial.

“We’re not going to allow that. When you take that away from our nation, you take away the very roots and the foundation of what this nation was founded on,” Owens says.

The senator is accused of taking gifts, including private flights and luxury resort stays, from Florida doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for political favors.

A federal judge dropped seven bribery charges this week, but eight charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud still remain.

“The way this case started was wrong. The way it was investigated was wrong,” Menendez said after the first trial.

Menendez and Melgen maintained their innocence throughout the previous trial, which ended with a hung jury.

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