The Christian beach town in New Jersey is under pressure to halt its Sunday morning religious closures

The city of Ocean Grove, New Jersey is under fire again, this time under pressure to open its beach on Sunday morning at a time when it has been closed in the past.

For generations, the privately owned seaside town of God’s Square Mile has closed its beach until 12 noon on Sunday mornings to allow residents to attend church and hold religious services. The Ocean Grove area was founded on Christian values.

Now, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has held Ocean Grove accountable by issuing a warning letter saying the city is breaking the law by restricting access to the ocean and wet sand — which is public property – cuts off.

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The warning letter, which was sent to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA) on Aug. 7, said: “The permit shall not restrict or right vertical or horizontal public access to dry sandy beaches covered by this permit.” impede public access.” Use of the dry sand for temporary recreational purposes associated with the sea and wet sand.”

“Activities include the use of chain locks and padlocks to prevent public access to the beach during daylight hours,” the warning said.

Ocean Grove, NJ / Jersey Shore

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association is headquartered in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. The coastal city’s beach closure on Sunday morning is about “improving the quality of life that benefits both secular and religious intentions.” (Joshua Comins/Fox News Digital)

The NJDEP shared the letter, along with OGCMA President Michael Badger’s response, in an email to Fox News Digital.

The August 13 response explained that the beach was only closed on 15 seasonal Sundays.

It continues to allow public access to the coast.

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“The result of the phased completion is improving.” [the] religious and secular quality of life experiences in Ocean Grove that society recognizes as valuable,” Badger wrote in the note sent to Robert Clark, regional director of the Bureau of Coastal and Land Use Compliance and Enforcement.

“During that 0.5% of the year, the ocean views from the OGCMA boardwalk and pier are of sublime natural beauty without the visual elements of umbrellas, tents and crowds,” he added.

Ocean Grove, NJ

Counter-protesters are shown outside the entrance to Ocean Grove Beach on August 27, 2023. (Joshua Comins/Fox News Digital)

Badger spoke about the reason for the beach closure in an interview with Fox News Digital, noting the importance of promoting Ocean Grove’s tradition and respecting religious observances.

“It creates a calmer, less stressful environment,” he said. “It is consistent with the historic charm that is characteristic of Ocean Grove and sets us apart from our neighboring communities.”

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“There is less traffic on the streets. It’s a little easier to find parking,” Badger continued. “There are no Italian ice cream and ice cream trucks driving up and down the street.”

It also gives Ocean Grove lifeguards half a day off, he said – and allows people to go to church.

“Overall, it’s a quality of life improvement that benefits both secular and religious intentions,” he said.

Ocean Grove’s beach has been closed on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day for several decades, Badger said.

The city had previously closed its beach all day on Sundays.

According to Badger, OGCMA is a private, religiously-affiliated non-profit organization that has owned the land at Ocean Grove — including the nearly half-mile beach, boardwalk and pier — for 154 years.


Ocean Grove is also home to the longest serving lifeguard corps in the state of New Jersey.

Badger said the state’s push to open the beach Sunday morning would constitute a “violation” of Ocean Grove’s private property rights.

Ocean Grove, NJ, Pictures

Current scenes from Ocean Grove, New Jersey are shown here, as well as the cross that is prominently displayed near the beach. (Joshua Comins/Fox News Digital)

Other beaches and private businesses on the Jersey shore have even “more restrictive” rules in place than Ocean Grove’s three-hour Sunday closure rule – he added, leading him to believe Ocean Grove will be “prominently highlighted”.

“[They] I don’t think a religious organization should have that much influence on the beach that is ours.”

This acceptance follows opposition from opposition groups such as Neptune United, a “bipartisan community advocacy group” that has repeatedly criticized OGCMA for its alleged “history of discrimination” and “religious radicalization”.

The organization labeled several of the crucial decisions of the camp meeting as “radical religious actions.” These include the cross symbol on its beach badges and the cross-shaped pier project that opened to the public in April 2023.

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The cross symbol has appeared on the community’s beach badges five times in the last 10 years; Beach visitors must wear these to enter.

The 2022 beach badge is the first to bear the OGCMA’s full name, “Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association,” which Neptune United has also publicly criticized.

Ocean Grove, NJ

Current Ocean Grove Beach Badges. The 2022 badge is the first to bear the OGCMA’s full name: “Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.” (Joshua Comins/Fox New Digital)

The pier’s religious intent makes it “problematic for secular” Neptune Township, according to Neptune United’s website.

Badger told Fox News Digital that Neptune United’s literature is “clear” that it is an “anti-Christian” group.

“[They] I think a religious organization shouldn’t have that much influence over the beach that’s ours,” he said.

Members of the opposition group have gathered on the beach in protest for several consecutive Sundays to urge the beach to be opened. The protest on Sunday of Labor Day weekend saw the largest turnout of the summer.

“More than 140 people defiantly committed trespassing by stepping over or under the chain at the closed entrances,” Badger said.

During an Aug. 27 protest, group members sponsored a campaign to remove Ocean Grove’s tax-exempt status, Badger said.

“The power to tax is the power to destroy,” he said.

“It is worrying that the rule is being applied unequally compared to other beaches when it is known that people seeking redemption are doing so out of anti-Christian sentiments,” he continued.

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Pastor Raphael Giglio, founder and senior pastor of the North Shore Fellowship in Monmouth County, New Jersey, said he viewed the decision to open Ocean Grove Beach Sunday morning as an act of oppression.

“I think it’s oppressive to religious organizations,” the Ocean Grove-based pastor said during an interview with Fox News Digital.

“I suspect if we weren’t a religious organization, they would be less vehement against us… They attack our beliefs head-on.”

“I suspect if we weren’t a religious organization, they would be less vehement against us… They attack our beliefs head-on.”

According to Giglio, thousands of worshipers attend services at the two Ocean Grove churches every Sunday.

“The city is full of Christian believers who don’t mind the late opening of the beach,” he said.

In fact, the pastor added, “they expect it because it’s been like this for over 100 years.”

The backlash was “not unexpected,” he said, but the opposition contradicts the mission of Ocean Grove’s founders to build a community where “spiritual birth, growth and renewal” can flourish.

“The Camp Meeting Association has really opened its arms to non-Methodist ministers like me,” Giglio said.

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“And I think that spiritual resurgence has caused the opposition to react… by creating… dissent or static, or maybe even destroying the peace of Sunday morning.”

Ocean Grove should not be treated “any differently” than any other private beach, campus or community, the pastor said.

“We want to be heard and respected for our traditions.”

“We want to be heard and respected for our traditions, none of which are exclusive,” he said.

Giglio said he hopes the ordeal will end with “justice, fairness and respect”.


“I think when you lease land or visit private property that serves a specific purpose for a religion or culture, you have to respect that religion or culture,” he said.

Neptune United also complained about a wooden cross displayed on the beach sand dune east of the Boardwalk Pavilion, the city’s beach information boards that display the “Scripture of the Day,” and the large lighted cross at the front of the Large auditorium on the Pilgrim Pathway, the website states.

The Neptune United website also noted that the camp meeting was not linked to any particular church, but argued that these examples showed a disregard for the separation of church and state and were hostile to “all religious and secular believers”.

“We are desperately praying and trying to find ways to preserve what we have and not put people at risk.”

Despite the possibility for NJDEP to file a violation charge against Ocean Grove, Badger said residents remain steadfast in upholding the community’s mission.

“We are desperately praying and trying to find ways to preserve what we have and not put people at risk,” he said.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association has a longstanding relationship with the NJDEP. In 2021, OGCMA submitted an application for its cruciform pier, which was later approved.


Neptune United did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment at the time of publication.

The NJDEP declined additional comment.

Rick Schindler

Rick Schindler is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Rick Schindler joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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