Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association president calls out ‘double standard’ as other NJ beaches close without repercussions
The state of New Jersey has taken further legal action against the Jersey Shore town of Ocean Grove.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) served a Notice of Violation to the Christian seaside community on Sept. 14 for its policy of closing its beach on 15 seasonal Sundays for a few hours on those mornings.
The NJDEP forwarded the notice in an email to Fox News Digital, which was addressed to Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association Director of Operations Steve Columbo.
The notice, penned and signed by NJDEP Region Supervisor Robert Clark, warned Columbo that Ocean Grove had 10 days to respond, and recommended that the association “engage in compliance discussions with the Bureau of Coastal and Land Use Compliance & Enforcement” to resolve the matter.
This Notice of Violation was issued nearly one month after Ocean Grove was served a warning letter on Aug. 10, 2023, which claimed the town was non-compliant with the state’s policy to allow public access to the ocean and wet sand.
A sign blocks off one of the Ocean Grove beach entrances displaying its Sunday morning beach closure policy. (Joshua Comins/Fox News Digital)
For generations, the privately owned town, which is known as “God’s Square Mile,” has kept its beach closed on seasonal Sunday mornings until noon so that its residents can attend church and engage in religious worship.
Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association President Michael Badger responded to the state’s most recent move in an interview with Fox News Digital.
“While the OGCMA is disappointed to have received the NoV, we are prepared to continue discussions with the NJDEP,” he said.
Badger also unveiled a potential “double standard” upheld by the NJDEP — as a neighboring community, Asbury Park, reportedly has been allowed to “close parallel access” to the beach for an entire weekend for a music festival.
Asbury Park “was permitted to close a sizable stretch of [its] beach for several days, far longer than Ocean Grove’s three hours,” said Badger.
“The music festival placed sectional flooring across the entire beach, which is not objectionable to the Dept. of Environmental Protection — but keeping our beach less trampled for a few hours is in their interest.”
Asbury Park, according to Badger, continued to deny access to the water for “what is now greater than double the entire sum of the [Ocean Grove] summer closure.”
“Is there a double standard?” he questioned.
The NJDEP shared in a statement sent to Fox News Digital that the department is “aware of reports that public access points to beaches in Point Pleasant have been closed and is evaluating the matter.”
The spokesperson also wrote, “The NJDEP will take appropriate action where warranted in Point Pleasant and in any other communities where access requirements are not followed.”
Badger confirmed that the NJDEP said it would investigate the beachside venue Jenkinson’s in Point Pleasant, New Jersey — but that the department hadn’t received any other complaints about Asbury Park.
“Regulations only enforced when there are complaints?” Badger asked.
He also said, “NJDEP knows that complaints against the OGCMA are fueled by anti-Christian sentiments.”
Badger stated that this assumption has been “known” following Ocean Grove’s OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request of “their correspondence with the complainant.”
After Ocean Grove received its original warning from the state, protests broke out on the beach for several consecutive Sundays, partially fueled by the opposition group Neptune United.
Neptune United is a “nonpartisan, community advocacy organization” that has called out OGCMA repeatedly for its alleged “history of discrimination” and “religious radicalization” on its website, as Fox News Digital previously reported. (The organization did not respond to Fox News Digital’s earlier request for comment.)
The organization has referred to several of the camp meeting’s governing decisions as “radical religious actions.”
OGCMA is a private, religiously affiliated nonprofit that has owned the land in Ocean Grove — including the near-half-mile beach, boardwalk and pier — for 154 years, according to Badger.
Ocean Grove is also home to the longest-serving lifeguard corps in the state of New Jersey.
Badger told Fox News Digital in a previous interview that the state’s push to open the beach on Sunday mornings during the summer season would be an “infringement” of Ocean Grove’s private property rights.
Recent scenes from Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a town on the Jersey Shore that shows respect for religious observation on 15 seasonal Sundays every year. It’s been facing pushback on this of late. (Joshua Comins/Fox News Digital)
“It’s troubling that when it is known that the people who are seeking to get this reversed are doing it for anti-Christian sentiments, the regulation would be applied unequally compared to other beaches,” he said.
He also spoke earlier about Ocean Grove’s tradition and its respect for religious observation.
The seasonal Sunday morning beach closure “creates a quieter, less stressful environment,” he said.
“It’s in keeping with the historic charm that is characteristic of Ocean Grove and differentiates us from our neighboring communities.”
Source: FOX News