NEPTUNE TOWNSHIP — A Christian religious group that has closed its beaches on Sunday mornings for generations to honor God is relenting temporarily, allowing beachgoers onto the sand while it fights a court case with New Jersey over whose rules are paramount.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist group that established a Christian seaside retreat at the Jersey Shore in 1869, says it will allow people onto the beach on Sunday mornings while the case plays out.

The association has asked for an emergency ruling halting action by the Department of Environmental Protection to enforce beach access laws that New Jersey says Ocean Grove is violating. The agency threatened fines of $25,000 per day.

“For 155 years, we have closed our beach on Sunday mornings to honor God — a core pillar of this community since the founding of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association,” the group's statement says. “We are challenging this order to preserve our property rights and religious freedom.”

(AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
(AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Ocean Grove is part of Neptune Township, just north of Asbury Park and about 60 miles south of New York City.

The association owns all the land in the community that calls itself “God's Square Mile at the Jersey Shore,” including the beaches, which it has kept closed until noon on Sundays while it held worship services.

Some people defied the rules last year, venturing onto the beach on Sunday mornings. They said association personnel called the police, but officers did not intervene once they arrived.

In court papers, the association said that “all members of the public are welcome (onto the beach) 365 days a year. Anyone, regardless of race, creed, religion or orientation is welcome onto this private property 99.5% of the year.”

(AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
(AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

"Public access is restricted for 45 hours out of the year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a policy the association called “abundantly reasonable.”

There is no indication when the administrative law judge might issue a decision.

The DEP and the state attorney general's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

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