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Supreme Court of the United States

Bernstein v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association

Last Updated: 6/2/2020

Overview

What's at stake

  • Protecting religious groups’ right to live out their faith.
  • Ensuring that ministry groups’ religious freedom is respected.

Summary

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of the United Methodist Church exists to provide opportunities for spiritual birth, growth, and renewal through worship, education, and cultural and recreational programs.  For over 144 years, the group has owned a one-mile strip of beach-front property in New Jersey.  This idyllic seaside setting includes a boardwalk pavilion.  As a means of ministering to members of the community, the group hosted wedding ceremonies in many of its facilities, including the pavilion.  When two women asked Ocean Grove to host their civil commitment ceremony in its pavilion, the group declined because of its religious belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.  The two women then filed a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. 

After conducting an investigation, state officials put the group on trial for sexual-orientation discrimination.  Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies came to Ocean Grove’s defense.  They made clear that any attempt to force a religious group to host or otherwise support same-sex unions would violate the First Amendment, which protects those groups’ right to exercise their faith by declining to promote viewpoints that violate Christian teaching.

An administrative law judge rejected these arguments and ruled that Ocean Grove had violated state law by declining to host the same-sex ceremony.  Alliance Defending Freedom appealed that decision to the Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.  He upheld the original ruling by concluding that the group could maintain “a comfortable distance from notions incompatible with its own beliefs.”  Of course, the First Amendment was designed to take such decisions out of the government’s hands. 

Following Ocean Grove’s decision not to appeal the director’s decision, it no longer hosts any wedding ceremonies in the pavilion.  Alliance Defending Freedom continues to work with Ocean Grove and other religious groups to ensure they are not forced to use their property in ways that violate their faith.  

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies defended the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association when it came under activist attack for refusing to violate its faith by hosting same-sex civil commitment ceremonies.

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Legal Documents

Court
Title
Date
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