A church organization has been caught up in a discrimination case brought by two lesbians who were denied permission to rent the Christian group’s facilities for a “ceremony” after the meaning of “equal” was changed by the state, according to a warning from Liberty Counsel.
The situation involves the United Methodist Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which has been accused by the government in New Jersey of discriminating against a self-described lesbian duo, Luisa Paster and Harriet Bernstein, who were denied permission to rent a church pavilion.
The pavilion is on church-owned beachfront property near Asbury Park and had been open to the public for decades under an agreement reached between the church and the local government then.
One of the provisions of the agreement was that the pavilion would be open to the public “on an equal basis,” according to the report from Liberty Counsel.
But in 2007, years after the original agreement was adopted, the state set up a same-sex civil union law and the duo demanded permission to use the pavilion. When they were refused they filed a complaint alleging the new definition of “equal” was violated.
The state Division of Civil Rights now has issued a Finding of Probable Cause against the Camp Meeting Association. Division Director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, who also was a complainant in the case, issued the decision.
In it, the state said an investigation found that the refusal to permit the civil union ceremony violated the public accommodation provisions of the state’s Law Against Discrimination and did not violate First Amendment Rights.
“When it invites the public at large to use it, the
Association is subject to the Law Against Discrimination, and
enforcement of that law in this context does not affect the
Association’s constitutionally protected right to free exercise
of religion,” the state said.
The church group had rejected the request because same-sex civil unions conflict with the doctrines of the United Methodist Church.
However, a ruling for probable cause was rejected in a second case because the association had changed its policy and no longer allows general public use of its property by that time.
According to Liberty Counsel, the finding means the state has finished its preliminary investigation and determined there
is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion the New
Jersey Law Against Discrimination was violated.
“The clash between
same-sex unions and religious freedom has arrived, and that clash will
increase,” said Mathew Staver, chief of Liberty Counsel. “We’ve seen a pastor arrested in Sweden for preaching
that homosexuality is contrary to biblical principles. When the alarm
was sounded, some thought it was all hype. But when a church has to
sacrifice its religious convictions in order to invite the public to
use its facilities, the threat to liberty is not hype.
right is granted to same-sex unions, then a right is taken from
religious liberty and freedom of speech. Same-sex unions pose a
serious threat to freedom of conscience and free exercise of
religion,” he said.