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Sunday, September 23, 2007

U.S. Christian Camp Loses Tax-Exempt Status over Same-Sex Civil-Union Ceremony

By John Jalsevac

OCEAN GROVE, N.J., September 19, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) -
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced on Monday that it was stripping the Methodist Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of its tax-exempt status for part of its property. The Methodist camp made the news earlier this year after it refused, for religious reasons, to allow a lesbian couple to hold a "civil-union" ceremony at a pavilion on the camp's property.


We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution.

Wow. That lasted all of 60 years before they decided to crap on it!

The pavilion, said Scott Hoffman, the camp's chief administrative officer to LifeSiteNews, "is a facility we have used exclusively for our camp meeting mission and worship celebrations since 1869."

Until recently the camp held tax-exempt status on its entire boardwalk property under a New Jersey program that gives tax-breaks to organizations that open up their property to the general public.

In June, however, Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Pester, a lesbian, filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office on the basis of sexual orientation discrimination, after Ocean Grove refused to allow them to hold their "civil-union" ceremony at the camp's pavilion. A second lesbian couple has also sued Ocean Grove. New Jersey's anti-discrimination laws currently forbid those who "offer goods, services, and facilities to the general public" from "directly or indirectly denying or withholding any accommodation, service, benefit, or privilege to an individual" on the basis of sexual orientation.

"It is clear that the pavilion is not open to all persons on an equal basis," DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson, wrote to the camp on Monday, in announcing the DEP's decision to revoke the camp's tax-exempt status.

"When people hear the words 'open space,' we want them to think not just of open air and land, but that it is open to all people," Jackson continued. "And when the public subsidizes it with tax breaks, it goes with the expectation that it is not going to be parsed out, whether it be by activity or any particular beliefs."


In otherwords, "all your church are belong to us."

Currently, however, there is some confusion over just how much of the camp's property no longer has tax-exempt status. As such, one homosexual advocacy group is threatening to appeal the DEP's decision, saying that it doesn't go far enough, reports the AP. "We're looking for a bigger victory here," said Steve Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality. "We have the symbolic victory of the state telling Ocean Grove they're wrong, but there is a bigger victory to be had by having the entire tax-exemption removed. We're happy, but there's a lot more happiness to be had."


Any doubts that Steve Goldstein is a firm believer in so-called separation of church and state?

According to the Neptune Township tax assessor, the revocation of the tax-exempt status on the pavilion will only cost Ocean Grove about $175/year, although Scott Hoffman has reportedly issued a statement claiming that the DEP's decision in fact appears to revoke tax-exempt status for "over 99 percent of the land." Hoffman said that Ocean Grove's lawyers are currently reviewing the decision.

In August, the Christian camp preempted the complaints currently pending against it by itself suing New Jersey state officials. According to the Alliance Defense fund, which is representing the camp, the attorney general's office is violating First Amendment protections by investigating Ocean Grove. "Religious groups have the right to make their own decisions without government interference," said Brian Raum, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. "The government can't force a private Christian organization to use its property in a way that would violate its own religious beliefs."


I seem to remember not all that long ago, the homosexual community claiming they have no intentions of attempting to force their agenda on the churches and that no religious organization would be coerced to recognize homosexual unions or perform such ceremonies if they conflicted with their religious beliefs.

I hope this is the case taken to SCOTUS. With the ADF involved, it just may be.


See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

Methodist Camp Meeting Association Sues New Jersey for Civil Union Investigation
http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2007/aug/07081501.html

Lesbian Couple Files Complaint against Church for Refusing Civil Union Ceremony
http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2007/jul/07071011.html


Crossposted at Stop the ACLU

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