The facts for this comment come from a Press Release of the Institute on Religion and Democracy on 20 September. (Ordinarily, a press release from an interested party would not be used as the basis of a comment. But the dispute between the Methodists and a lesbian couple has been reported elsewhere, and New Jersey has definitely taken the side of the lesbians.)
The Ocean Grove Camp Ground was created and developed by the Methodist Church in the 19th century. At all times it has been owned and operated by the Methodists. For more than a century the Methodists have invited citizens of New Jersey, regardless of their religious beliefs, to share in the use of the property. Many people have asked for, and been granted, permission to conduct marriages on the property. However, it is the stated policy of the Methodist Church not to conduct same-sex ceremonies on its property.
A lesbian couple asked for permission to marry on the property, and were refused. They then complained to the state. The NJ Commissioner for Environmental Protection then ruled that Ocean Grove was no longer tax exempt as a “public place” because it would not permit the lesbian “marriage” there.
It is unclear whether the ACLU was involved in the case. It is entirely consistent with the ACLU’s position in other cases that it would support the “right” of the lesbians to get “married” on Methodist property. In the reporting of the story, it was not made clear why the Commissioner for Environmental Protection has any power whatsoever over the tax exempt status of any property, whether it belongs to the Methodists or anyone else.
It is black letter law that no state has the right to dictate to any religion what beliefs it must adhere to, on its own property. It is also black letter law that no state can discriminate between religions, by granting tax exemption to one religion but not to another, based on the state’s opinion about the beliefs of each religion.
Of course, New Jersey does have the power, if it so chose, to end the tax exemptions of ALL religions in that state. No politician in his right mind would ever suggest such a thing, but it is theoretically possible.
The source does not suggest what steps the Methodist Church is taking next to confront the religious discrimination just presented by the State. Presumably, there are appeals available and they have been pursued. But, there is an inexpensive, simple solution which might get a good result much faster.
The Methodists could post a sign at the entrance to Oak Grove Camp Ground which says: “For a century, the Methodists have warmly welcomed people of all beliefs to share the hospitality of this Camp. Now, the State of New Jersey says that is not acceptable. So, if you are not a believing Methodist, you can no longer come here.”
“If you object to that, as we do too, please call [BUREAUCRAT] at [PHONE NUMBER] and tell him to reverse his decision against the Church and the Camp Ground. If you get no satisfaction from him, please call [STATE REPRESENTATIVE] and [STATE SENATOR].”
The belief of this writer is that $100 spent to post this sign would get a just result much faster than 100 times that much, spent on lawyers.
Source for original story on the Net: