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For the First Time in 155 Years, Exclusive Jersey Shore Beach to Open on Sundays

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Edited by: TJVNews.com

The quaint coastal town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, has been thrust into the spotlight over a longstanding tradition that restricts access to its private beach on Sunday mornings. According to a report that appeared in The New York Post on Wednesday, this change comes after the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Christian organization that owns the picturesque beach, agreed to open its gates or face substantial fines. This decision, however, has sparked a significant dispute over property rights and religious freedom, the Post report added.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association has a long-standing tradition of closing its beach on Sunday mornings. For 155 years, this practice has been a core pillar of the community, deeply rooted in the organization’s religious beliefs and values. Known as “God’s Square Mile at the Jersey Shore,” it was founded by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association as a Methodist retreat in 1869, the Post reported. The area currently centers its activities around The Great Auditorium, a massive hall surrounded by tents occupied by pilgrims who come to worship. This tradition of closing the beach has been a core pillar of the community, emphasizing its commitment to religious principles.

The closure of the beach during Sunday mornings was intended to honor God and provide a serene environment for religious observance. This practice, deeply rooted in the town’s Christian heritage, is now being challenged by local residents who argue that it discriminates against non-Christians and other marginalized groups.

Recently, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) ordered the association to open its privately owned beach on Sunday mornings. Failure to comply with this directive would result in fines of up to $25,000 per day. The report in The Post indicated that the NJDEP’s order is based on broader public access mandates, reflecting the state’s commitment to ensuring that beaches and other natural resources are available to all residents and visitors.

The association, while complying with the NJDEP’s order, has made it clear that it will not abandon its quest to protect its religious and property rights. In a statement to The Post, the organization emphasized its commitment to preserving the tradition of honoring God on Sunday mornings. “For 155 years we have closed our beach on Sunday mornings to honor God — a core pillar of this community since the founding of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association,” the statement read.

The dispute began when some locals defied the association’s decree and complained about the beach’s closure on Sunday mornings. In response, the DEP ordered on October 12 that the beach must be open on Sunday mornings, citing New Jersey’s beach access laws, the report added. These laws mandate that beaches must be accessible to the public without unreasonable restrictions.

In its defense, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association argued in court papers that the beach is open to the public for 365 days a year, with the exception of Sunday mornings, which constitutes only 0.5% of the time, as per the information provided in The Post report. The association called this arrangement “abundantly reasonable,” highlighting their compliance with public access laws for the overwhelming majority of the time.

However, the DEP ruled otherwise, stating that any barriers, including chains and padlocks, restricting public access to the beachfront must be removed. DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, in a ruling on Tuesday, denied the association’s request to rescind the order. The Post reported that LaTourette dismissed the association’s argument, stating, “While [Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association’s] intent to comply with the Public Access Law during the majority of the calendar year is acknowledged, the association’s legal compliance at most times does not justify its illegal violations at other times.”

LaTourette also said that, “The association’s legal compliance at most times does not justify its illegal violations at other times.” The ruling could set a precedent for how similar disputes are handled, reinforcing the importance of consistent legal compliance.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association’s dispute with the DEP is a microcosm of a broader debate about the intersection of tradition, law, and public interest.

As Ocean Grove expanded, its demographic makeup diversified, leading to increasing discontent among residents who felt excluded by the Sunday morning beach closure. Indicated in The Post report was that neighbors have raised concerns that the age-old practice discriminates against non-Christians and other sectors of society, including the LGBTQ+ community, Jews, atheists, and agnostics.

Paul Martin, a local resident, encapsulated this sentiment in a statement to the Associated Press: “We just feel that’s wrong, that it’s not what America is supposed to be about. It makes living here very uncomfortable when you’re gay, when you’re Jewish, an atheist or agnostic.”

 

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