The small town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, is in hot water again, this time for its refusal to open its beach on Sunday mornings.
The privately owned beach town was founded in 1869 by a group of Methodist clergymen who formed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA). The small tract of seaside land is known as “God’s Square Mile” and is still owned by the Methodist camp meeting association.
In 2012, a state administrative law judge ruled that OGCMA violated the state’s anti-discrimination law when it refused to rent its boardwalk pavilion for a homosexual civil union ceremony.
The current controversy centers on access to the beach during Sunday mornings.
For decades, the town has kept its beach closed on Sunday mornings until noon, but now the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is calling on the Christian-based town to back off its historic practice.
According to Fox News, a warning letter from the NJDEP was sent to the OGCMA on Aug. 7 and read, “The Permittee cannot limit vertical or horizontal public access to any dry sand beach area covered under this permit nor interfere with the public’s right to free use of the dry sand for intermittent recreational purposes connected with the ocean and wet sand.”
In a response provided to Fox News, OGCMA President Michael Badger responded to the warning letter and said forcing the beach to open on Sunday mornings would violate OGCMA’s private property rights.
Badger also noted that the Sunday morning closure grants the town’s lifeguards a half a day off and allows people to attend church.
For the past couple of decades, Ocean Grove’s beach has been closed on Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Prior to that, the beach was closed all day on Sunday.
A badge required for admittance to Ocean Grove’s beach is also being scrutinized.
Neptune United, a group Badger described as “anti-Christian,” is spearheading a local campaign against the OGCMA. Their website encourages people to contact the Christian group “to voice your alarm at their 2023 beach badge that has a cross symbol on it for entrance to Ocean Grove Beach, Neptune’s local township beach.”
On Sept. 3, The group held a protest on the beach to express opposition to the OGCMA’s Sunday policy, drawing over 140 people, according to Badger. The group is also calling for the removal of Ocean Grove’s tax exemption status.
Pastor Raphael Giglio, an Ocean Grove-based pastor, said the opposition to the Sunday morning beach closure is based on the group’s Christian faith.
“I suspect that if we weren’t a religious organization, they’d be less vehemently opposed to us,” Giglio told Fox News.
“The town is filled with Christian worshipers who have no problem with the late opening of the beach,” he said.