Church and State

New Jersey attacks religious freedom of Methodist campground

.- The state of New Jersey denied the tax-exempt status of part of a Methodist campground because it has refused to host same-sex ceremonies. Ocean Grove Camp Ground in New Jersey was founded and has been privately owned by a Methodist organization since 1870.

According to the New York Times, the state commissioner of environmental protection declined to recertify a boardwalk pavilion as tax-exempt because the campground would not allow a lesbian couple to have their civil union ceremony there. The lesbian couple has filed a civil rights complaint with the state against the campground association.

Association leaders point to the United Methodist Church's official prohibition against same-sex unions on church property.
 
"The state ruled that the boardwalk pavilion no longer met the tax-exempt requirement as a place fully open to the public, which is inaccurate,” said Mark Tooley of United Methodist Action. "Contrary to New Jersey's assertions, the Ocean Grove Camp Ground Association has not limited the use of its boardwalk pavilion to any person, rather it has prohibited some behavior, according to the principles of the United Methodist Church.”

"The New Jersey government is now interfering with the camp association's religious liberty by revoking its green space tax exemption,” he said in a press release. “This tax exemption had previously been renewed year after year without objection. Now suddenly it has become endangered in a vindictive political attack unrelated to environmental protection or green space."

The administrator of the Camp Meeting Association, Scott Hoffman, said in a written statement that the Camp Meeting is reviewing the letter sent by the state. “However, it is worth noting that over 99 percent of the Camp Meeting’s land was recertified as tax-exempt,” he said.

In a letter sent to the state last week arguing that the tax-exempt status of the pavilion, should be retained, Michael Behrens, the association’s lawyer, said that the use of the open-air pavilion had not changed since it was first included in the tax-exempt program 18 years ago.

The pavilion, which is used largely for Sunday church services and youth ministry programs, has also been a place where people out for a walk are welcome to sit and relax.

“But never was the general public granted unfettered right to use the pavilion in any way it chooses (e.g., to reserve it for an exclusive use such as a civil union ceremony),” Behrens wrote. 

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