A New Jersey Judge has ruled that a Christian organization engaged in wrongdoing and violated the state’s discrimination laws when it prevented a gay couple from holding a civil union ceremony on its property.
Administrative Law Judge Solomon Metzger made the ruling Thursday in a case involving the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. In 2007 the group stopped a lesbian couple from using its boardwalk pavilion.
“Respondent opposes same-sex unions as a matter of religious belief, and in 2007 found itself on the wrong side of recent changes in the law,” Judge Metzger wrote in his ruling. “I have concluded that respondent violated the LAD (Law Against Discrimination) when it refused to conduct a civil union ceremony.”
Jim Campbell, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association has been operating on the Jersey shore for more than 125 years and has its history rooted in the Methodist Church.
“According to their Book of Discipline, they cannot host same sex unions on their property,” Campbell told Fox News & Commentary. “He is saying they engaged in wrongdoing under the law simply for refusing to use the property in a way that would violate their religious beliefs.”
But that’s only part of the judge’s concern. In 1989, Ocean Grove applied for a Green Acres real-estate tax exemption for a section of land that included the pavilion and the boardwalk. One condition of the exemption is that the property had to be “open for public use on an equal basis.
When they first applied for the tax exemption, civil unions were not yet legal in New Jersey. That changed in 2006 when the New Jersey Supreme Court granted same-sex couples equal rights under the state constitution.
The judge’s decision suggests that he doesn’t see a conflict with religious liberty in the case, Campbell said. Metzger rejected the church’s contention that the pavilion was an extension of its wedding ministry.
But Campbell said the ruling could have troublesome implications for religious groups across the state –including the possibility that churches may be forced to host same sex unions in their houses of worship.
“That’s the danger of this ruling,” Campbell said. “It could be applied to other religious entities and it could be applied to other places of worship.”
He said he hopes New Jersey’s director of civil rights will reconsider the ruling and find that religious groups have a right to use their private property in a way that’s consistent with their beliefs.
If not, he said that anyone could use the ruling to demand that churches host events and other ceremonies that would conflict with their faith.
“We’ve seen a clash over the past five to ten years that’s building and building where the homosexual legal agenda comes in conflict with religious liberty,” he said. “There’s always been the concern that courts would incorrectly interpret constitutional freedoms and that’s what we are seeing in this case.”