LifeSiteNews reports on a legal case from New Jersey that is of a type that we’re going to be seeing more and more of in the future unless the U.S. Supreme Court puts a halt to it. A judge has ruled that a United Methodist retreat house has to open its facility to same-sex union ceremonies because non-discrimination is a more important value that religious freedom:
A New Jersey judge ruled against a Christian retreat house that refused to allow a same-sex civil union ceremony to be conducted on its premises, ruling the Constitution allows “some intrusion into religious freedom to balance other important societal goals.”
On Thursday, administrative judge Solomon A. Metzger ruled that religious liberty did not exempt the seaside retreat, which is associated with the United Methodist Church, from renting its facilities out for purposes that violate its moral beliefs.
In March 2007, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association declined Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster’s request to rent its Boardwalk Pavilion for the ceremony. The couple sued, claiming they had been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. In December 2008, the state Division on Civil Rights found the Christian campground had likely violated the state Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and joined the case.
Judge Metzger said church doctrine was irrelevant. “As to ‘free exercise’ [of religion], the LAD is a neutral law of general application designed to uncover and eradicate discrimination; it is not focused on or hostile to religion,” he wrote. The free exercise clause did not factor into his ruling, he stated, but “a much lower standard that tolerates some intrusion into religious freedom to balance other important societal goals.” He believed the “arm’s-length nature of the transactions” gave Ocean Grove “comfortable distance from notions incompatible with its own beliefs.”
Metzger agreed in his ruling that Ocean Grove “is fundamentally a religious organization, free to form its mission without government oversight or intrusion” and that its owners had not “acted with ill-motive.” The facility “opposes same-sex unions as a matter of religious belief, and in 2007 found itself on the wrong side of recent changes in the law.”
Metzger ruled that, since the facility allowed non-Christians to use its facility for [weddings], it had no doctrinal limitations. But Methodists do not limit their sacramental ministry to Christians and historically do not recognize marriage as a sacrament.
The judge in this case had no business basing any of his decision on his understanding of Methodist doctrine. The only relevant religious issue is whether the Camp Ground Association was using the teaching of its parent denomination in making its decision, and the answer to that is unequivocally yes. At that point, the issue becomes whether to prefer the non-discrimination rights of gays to the religious freedom of practitioners. The place of religious freedom in the First Amendment, and the fact that sexual orientation does not (yet, at least) have protected class status under the SCOTUS doctrine of “strict scrutiny” means that this should have been an easy decision to make in favor of the CGA. That it went the other way is an indication that personal and political preference was at work.
Given the culture of the bench, I predict you’ll see more and more judges making the same choice to prefer gay rights over religious freedom until such time as the SCOTUS makes a definitive ruling in favor of the First Amendment. And if the latter should ever decide the other way, that’s when it’s going to be time to head underground, or give up our consciences and faith altogether.