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The Christian shore town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, will open its beach on Sunday mornings for the first time in 155 years. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA) has historically kept the beach closed for religious observation until noon on Sundays. However, following pressure from the state of New Jersey, the OGCMA has been ordered to open the beach. The association has announced that it will challenge the order in order to preserve its property rights and religious freedom.

Despite the ongoing pushback, Ocean Grove will provide lifeguards on Sunday mornings to ensure the safety of beachgoers. The OGCMA continues to focus on ministry and providing opportunities for spiritual growth and renewal through worship, education, and cultural programs. The town welcomes all to join them in ‘God’s Square Mile,’ emphasizing their commitment to their religious traditions and beliefs. The NJDEP issued an administrative order to remove padlocks and chains from the beach site, threatening fines of $25,000 per day for non-compliance.

In response to the NJDEP’s order, the OGCMA requested a stay, which was denied by NJDEP commissioner Shawn LaTourette. The OGCMA has not demonstrated that a stay of enforcement of public access requirements is warranted, according to the commissioner. The matter is now in litigation, and further comments from the NJDEP have been declined. Protests have occurred in the past, with opposition groups trespassing onto Ocean Grove’s private beach property while it was closed for Sunday worship.

Former OGCMA President Michael Badger highlighted the importance of the Sunday morning beach closure in furthering Ocean Grove’s tradition and respecting religious observation. He emphasized that the closure creates a quieter, less stressful environment and is in keeping with the historic charm of Ocean Grove. The closure also allows lifeguards half a day off and enables people to attend church. Overall, Badger believes that the closure improves the quality of life in Ocean Grove, benefiting both secular and religious intentions.

Ocean Grove has had its beach closed on Sundays for a couple of decades, with the closure expanding from 9 a.m. to noon between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Prior to that, the beach was closed all day on Sundays. OGCMA is a private, religiously affiliated nonprofit that owns the land in Ocean Grove, including the beach, boardwalk, and pier. Despite the challenges and pressure from the state, the association remains committed to preserving its property rights and religious freedom as it continues to navigate the legal proceedings surrounding the Sunday beach closures.

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