By Hilary White

TRENTON, August 21, 2007 ( – In another case of a clash between Christian traditional values and the new secular sexual morality, the United Methodist Church group that owns a private campground retreat are suing the New Jersey government, saying its rights of religious freedom are being violated. The state is investigating a discrimination charge brought against the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association by a pair of lesbians who wanted to use the private retreat campground for a “civil union” ceremony.

The federal suit accuses the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights of “causing a substantial burden on, and chilling of,” the group’s “rights to unfettered religious expression, association and free exercise of religion.”

New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws require those offering “goods, services, and facilities to the general public” to allow “any accommodation, service, benefit, or privilege to an individual” without “discrimination” on the basis of sexual orientation. The state of New Jersey granted legal status to homosexual civil unions in February.

But now the Methodist group is counter-suing, saying that the state of New Jersey has no right to dictate to a religious group how they use their own privately-owned facilities. The United Methodists founded the campground in the 19th century as a place for spiritual revival for the church’s members. The Methodist church’s guiding document, the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, specifically prohibits the denomination’s clergy and churches from participating in same-sex rites.

Mark Tooley, Executive Director of UMAction, a group attempting to preserve traditional Christian teaching in the Methodist Church, said the suit is an effort to defend the church and the campground “against a potentially intrusive arm of a state government that may try to override church policies in the name of ‘tolerance’.”

“This matter is not just about same-sex unions,” said Tooley. “It is about the freedom of a religious organization to uphold its own beliefs and establish policies for its own property.”

Scott Hoffman, chief administrative officer of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association told on July 10, that the particular part of the grounds the two women wanted to use, “is a facility we have used exclusively for our camp mission meeting and worship celebrations since 1869.”

The Alliance Defense Fund is representing the Camp Meeting Association and says the state has subjected this “patently religious entity to an illegal investigation and threat of prosecution under the law.”

Read related coverage:

Lesbian Couple Files Complaint against Church for Refusing Civil Union Ceremony