Neptune Township, N.J.
A religious nonprofit has owned Ocean Grove, a stretch of beach and adjacent property, for more than 150 years. During that time, it’s been the Methodist community’s policy to close the beach on Sunday. In the 1980s the group relaxed that policy, opening Ocean Grove’s beaches at noon on Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s the only patch of the roughly 130-mile Jersey Shore that’s off limits to bathers on summer Sunday mornings. Now state officials are looking to strip the community of its religious tradition and force the beaches open.
On Oct. 12 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ordered the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to stop closing its beach on Sunday mornings or face fines of up to $25,000 a day. State officials gave the association a month to request a hearing. Since beach season is over and any changes won’t take effect until next year, it is unclear why the state sees this as an urgent matter. Michael Badger, the organization’s president, attributes it to antireligious sentiment.