|Christian Ministry Censured for Failing to Host Same-Sex Ritual|
An administrative law judge in New Jersey has found a Christian ministry guilty of discrimination for refusing to host a same-sex ceremony on its own property. Judge Solomon Metzger ruled that the Ocean Grove
Camp Meeting Association violated a New Jersey law prohibiting discrimination based on "sexual orientation."
The Ocean Grove group operates a Christian retreat house regularly used for summer camp meetings. The Ocean Grove site was founded in 1869, and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The property includes a seaside boardwalk pavilion off the Atlantic Ocean Jersey Shore, which is often rented out for wedding ceremonies and other group celebrations.
In March of 2007 a female same-sex "couple" asked to rent the pavilion for a "civil union" ceremony, which is legal under New Jersey law. The Ocean Grove
Association declined the request, stating that such a ceremony would violate its religious beliefs. The women then filed suit against the church group, claiming they were victims of "sexual orientation" discrimination.
In his ruling, Judge Metzger ruled that the boardwalk pavilion is a "public accomodation," despite the fact that it is the private property of the Camp Meeting Association. Metzger stated that because he deemed the church group's pavilion to be a public accomodation, it must be open on an equal basis to all citizens.
Judge Metzger decided that the New Jersey anti-discrimination law was not hostile to religion, but was "a neutral law of general application designed to uncover and eradicate discrimination." Metzger ruled that the law required "some intrusion into religious freedom to balance other important societal goals." Metzger's decision will now be forwarded to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, which will decide whether to adopt it, modify it, or reject it.
Jim Campbell, staff counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, deplored the judge's attack on religious freedom. "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. Religious groups have the right to use their private property in ways that are consistent with their religious convictions."
The doctrines of the United Methodist Church state that "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," and that "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."
Campbell expressed grave concern over the precedent that Judge Metzger's ruling could establish. "Does this
now mean that churches could be forced to conduct same-sex unions in their own houses of worship? That's the danger of this ruling."
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey suggests that may be exactly what they are after. "When you open your doors to the public, you can't treat same-sex couples differently," says Jeanne LoCicero, deputy legal director for ACLU-NJ.
Campbell says that showdowns between the homosexual agenda and the religious integrity of Bible-believing churches are inevitable. "We've seen
a clash over the past five to ten years that's building where the homosexual legal agenda comes in conflict with religious liberty. There's always been the concern that courts would incorrectly interpret constitutional freedoms, and that's what we are seeing in this case."
As a result of the controversy, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association has suspended the use of the Boardwalk Pavilion for any weddings, and removed information from its website promoting the use of that space for matrimonial ceremonies.