Two lesbians asked to be married in a church-owned camp meeting. The church refused. The lesbians bought charges in the state’s department of civil rights. The department hauled the church into court.
It was a very special kind of court. It was not part of the judiciary. It was part of the executive — the same branch of government that enforces its interpretations of laws passed by the legislature.
There was no jury. It was not required. Remember, it was not part of the judicial branch.
Have you heard the phrase administrative law judge? This is a very special kind of judge. It is a judge who tries you on behalf of the branch of government that enforces the law. No jury required.
You didn’t know that? It’s time you learned.
The church was defended by a privately funded public legal organization, the Alliance Defense Fund. He argued:
“The government should not be able to force a private Christian organization to use its property in a way that would violate its own religious beliefs. Religious groups have the right to use their private property in a way that is consistent with their beliefs. That right, protected by both the New Jersey and U.S. constitutions, obviously trumps any law enacted by the state’s legislature.
“Through these events, the association connects with people who might not attend its worship services and encourages them to attend those services in the future. For example, the association begins its Saturday-night family entertainment events with a brief prayer and typically a quick promotion of its upcoming religious services and events. These are just some of the diverse ways that the association strives, in all its programs, to reach the entire community with the love and Gospel message of Jesus Christ.”
This did not persuade Administrative law judge Solomon Metzger, who ruled that Ocean Grove in fact had violated the civil rights of the lesbian couple. In his decision, he wrote,
“The respondent violated the [Law Against Discrimination] when it refused to conduct a civil-union ceremony for Ms. Bernstein and Ms. Paster. Respondent opposes same-sex unions as a matter of religious belief, and in 2007 found itself on the wrong side of recent changes in the law…
“As a religious organization that deems same-gender unions sinful, respondent is loath to be associated with such ceremonies and maintains that compelling this through the LAD violates its right of expressive association, free speech and free exercise of religion.
It got worse.
Not only did Metzger rule against Ocean Grove, but the association also lost part of the tax exempt status for that part of the property where the open air pavilion is located.
Churches are under fire. This will increase.
Some churches teach that Christians should not get involved in politics. I have news from them. So does Solomon Metzger.