By WILLIAM CLARK
Members of the Ocean Grove community voiced their displeasure with the 2023 beach badge at the Neptune Township Committee meeting this week saying they should not have to carry a badge with a cross on it in order to go to the beach.
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which is responsible for the design, features a cross on its beach badges.
With Ocean Grove being home to a diverse population of religious, political and cultural ideologies, some that don’t share the religiosity of the OGCMA view the choice of design as antithetical to welcoming iconography.
Paul Martin of Ocean Grove said the issue was neither being stopped nor resolved on its own. Martin referenced his own faith when discussing the badges.
“I’m Jewish. You want me to wear a cross or carry a cross?” Martin asked. “I can’t believe that you don’t have some point of leverage over the Camp Meeting in this town.”
Several others asked the committee to act on the design but township attorney Gene Anthony said that there is little that can be done in the face of an organization that holds a unique privilege in the eyes of the state.
“Basically, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association is still the private owner of all the land in Ocean Grove except for I believe one lot,” he said.
The OGCMA, according to Anthony, owns the beach and boardwalk. Although there is a separation of church and state, according to Anthony, the New Jersey Supreme Court said that Ocean Grove is essentially exempt. It ruled that the OGCMA “may continue to adopt rules which it deems necessary to protect Ocean Grove’s unique cultural and spiritual characteristics.”
One question posed to Anthony was how the Public Trust Doctrine could prevent the incorporation of religious icons.
The doctrine “just prevents them from denying access to the beach in certain areas of beaches at certain times,” he said.
Anthony’s explanation was lengthy and historical, emphasizing that challenges to the OGCMA’s ability to push its religious perspective have fallen short in litigation in the past.
Joyce Klein of Ocean Grove also felt compelled to speak after hearing others question why the town is unable or unwilling to step in. Klein ultimately zeroed in on the OGCMA which has refused to budge its position.
“There’s lots of ways the Camp Meeting could be accommodating us,” Klein said. “The Camp Meeting has no interest in accommodating any citizen of Neptune except Christian citizens.”
Klein went on to say that all members of the community that adhere to different faiths or no faith at all must bear a symbol of Christianity when they use the beach.
“All of those people, if they get a season’s badge, if they don’t get a day badge, if they get the cheaper badge, they are required to, on their person or in their bag or somehow carry a symbol of a religion that is not theirs,” Klein said. “That is morally reprehensible.”