Tuesday, December 30, 2008

NJ Finds Discrimination In Faith Group's Refusal To Rent Premises For Civil Union

The New Jersey Division of Civil Rights announced yesterday that its investigation had found probable cause to credit allegations that the Methodist-affiliated Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association had discriminated against a lesbian couple when it refused to rent its Boardwalk Pavilion for the couple to use for their civil union ceremony. In Bernstein v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, (NJ Civ. Rts. Div., Dec. 29, 2008), the Division first found that the Association's Boardwalk Pavilion-- widely used by the public-- is a place of public accommodation under New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination. The Division rejected the Association's free exercise of religion and free speech defenses to the discrimination charges. It found that in renting the Pavilion, the Association did not distinguish between religious or secular weddings, or between Christian weddings or those of other faiths, and that the Pavilion was not being used by the Association to convey a particular message. The case now moves from this preliminary determination to a hearing by an administrative law judge.

In a second case, Moore v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, (NJ Civ. Rts. Div., Dec. 29, 2008), the Division rejected a complaint from another lesbian couple who applied to sue the Boardwalk Pavilion for a civil union ceremony after the Association decided to stop renting it out to anyone for weddings or similar events. The AP reports on the decisions. It points out that an appeal in a suit alleging that the state Division of Civil Rights lacks jurisdiction to decide the Bernstein case is pending before the 3rd Circuit. A federal district court refused to enjoin the state from investigating the complaint. (See prior posting.)