For the First Time in 155 Years, This Beach Will Be Open Sunday

A conservative Christian nonprofit that controls a section of the Jersey Shore will reluctantly open its beach this Sunday morning for the first time in 155 years.

But the organization intends to challenge an order from the state that forced the change.

Ocean Grove, which has a long history of hosting Methodist camp meetings, sits about 60 miles south of Manhattan and describes itself as “God’s Square Mile.” Two wooden crosses stand in the dunes there. A pier in the shape of a cross was unveiled last year. The Christian flag, a red cross on a white banner, flies under an American flag by the beach.

Last summer, dozens of people gathered on the beach on Sunday mornings to protest the religiously motivated restrictions imposed by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which owns the property. In October, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection threatened the association with fines of up to $25,000 a day if the beach were not opened.

The association has applied for an emergency order that would allow it to maintain its longstanding rule, which prohibited visitors on the beach on Sunday before noon, during the hours many Christians are traditionally in church. But in the meantime, it said in a statement, the organization will comply with the state order to open the beach and will provide lifeguards on Sunday mornings.

“We are challenging this order to preserve our property rights and religious freedom,” the association said in a statement. It described the Sunday morning beach closure as a way “to honor God — a core pillar of this community.”

A status conference, in which attorneys will meet to discuss the case, has been scheduled for Sept. 4, two days after Labor Day, when peak beach season is over.

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