Watch CBS News

New Jersey, nonprofit group battling over Sunday beach access in Jersey Shore town

New Jersey, nonprofit group battling over Sunday beach access in Jersey Shore town
New Jersey, nonprofit group battling over Sunday beach access in Jersey Shore town 02:11

OCEAN GROVE, N.J. -- It's a debate that's pitting the state of New Jersey against a nonprofit Christian group that owns beach property down the Jersey Shore that restricts public access on Sunday mornings.

The Garden State wants to change that.

Both sides were scheduled to be in a courtroom Wednesday until the case got delayed.

The Ocean Group Camp Meeting Association, a conservative Christian nonprofit, has controlled Ocean Grove's beaches for more than 150 years. Religious symbols are all over the Jersey Shore town, from a cross on a dune to a pier designed in the shape of a cross.

And on Sundays, the group keeps the beach closed until noon.

"Part of the charm of the city is these old traditions," resident Neil Ostrander said. "I mean, there's beaches, you know, half a mile that way that if you really want to go to, you can go to."

The state's Department of Environmental Protection says blocking beach access to the public violates a coastal law. The agency threatened to fine the Methodist-based group $25,000 a day back in October if it didn't open the beach on Sunday mornings.

The Christian group is now challenging the state in court, with its case based on religious freedoms under the Constitution.

Anna Whiteman runs the Shawmont Hotel in town.

"It definitely would be nice to have it open for business, but also everyone who comes to Ocean Grove also respects the integrity of the town and the history of the town," Whiteman said.

CBS New York reached out to Ocean Group Camp Association, but has not heard back.

Many residents are defending the group, saying Ocean Grove was established as a Methodist camp back in 1869.

"We actually support the beaches being closed on Sunday, primarily cause it's quieter, less traffic. It gives an opportunity for us to attend services," resident Joan Casarella said.

CBS New York also reached out to the state Department of Environmental Protection. A spokesperson said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.

A nonprofit group called Neptune United is also fighting the Christian group, saying if it wants a private beach it should pay taxes.

Both sides are scheduled to have a court conference call on May 16. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.