NJ judge: Ministry engaged in ‘wrongdoing’ by adhering to its faith

Judge says declining to open private, beachside place of worship for same-sex ceremonies violates state law
Thursday, January 12, 2012

ADF attorney sound bite:  Jim Campbell

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey administrative law judge recommended Thursday that the state’s Division on Civil Rights find the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in violation of a state nondiscrimination law. The judge concluded that the ministry violated the law when it declined to allow two women to hold a “civil union” ceremony at its beachside pavilion, one of the ministry’s privately owned places of worship.

Alliance Defense Fund attorneys representing the ministry say they are considering their next steps in the case and argue that the ministry is simply exercising its constitutionally protected right to use its private property in a way that is consistent with its religious beliefs.

“The government should not be able to force a private Christian organization to use its property in a way that would violate its own religious beliefs,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jim Campbell. “Religious groups have the right to use their private property in a way that is consistent with their beliefs. That right, protected by both the New Jersey and U.S. constitutions, obviously trumps any law enacted by the state’s legislature.”

A judge with the State of New Jersey Office of Administrative Law issued the ruling in Bernstein v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. The director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights can adopt, modify, or reject the ruling within 45 days. If the director doesn’t act, the ruling becomes final at that time.

In 2007, two women requested use of the Camp Meeting Association’s Boardwalk Pavilion for their “civil union” ceremony. The association declined because hosting the ceremony would have violated its religious convictions. The two women then filed a complaint with the state.

ADF attorneys argued that the Camp Meeting Association’s use of its private property in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs does not run afoul of the state’s nondiscrimination law and that, even if it did, that application of the state’s law would violate the New Jersey and U.S. constitutions.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.