Lancaster Campground

Lancaster’s’s “secularization” is a direct consequence of a court order resulting from Federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit.  The court stripped Lancaster of its Christian identity because Lancaster was found in violation of Fair Housing laws. It had nothing whatever to do with changes in membership by-laws allowing “non-Christians” to buy cottages.  Had Lancaster proceeded more cautiously and with more compromise, rather than being inflexible, they could have avoided this result.  Bay View’s moderate by-law amendment is intended to preserve our Christian heritage so that a court does not impose the sort of sanction that was imposed on Lancaster Campground.

Here are Rev. Stan Sutton’s comments on the episode:

Lancaster Campground
As you may recall, I was tangentially involved as a witness in a lawsuit between a would-be leaseholder and the Lancaster Campground (LCG). LCG has its roots in the Methodist Church as a campground and assembly. It has perhaps 50 cottages, a large tabernacle, dining facilities, and programs that run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It probably started as a Chautauqua, but never kept the arts pillar. Nevertheless, it hosts many church events, has bylaws, I believe, similar to Bay View’s with language that required leaseholders to be Christians.

A Jewish/Christian couple, who had rented a cottage for many years, tried to buy one. Their membership application was denied because one of them was Jewish. They sued LCG under the Federal Fair Housing laws. LCG tried to join the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church into the suit, claiming they were exempt from the law by religious affiliation. I testified on behalf of the conference, against the campground. The conference was dismissed from the case on summary judgment.

The trial (Case N. C2-97-1096) was held in the Southern District of Ohio U.S. District Court. The Magistrate Judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, against LCG. Although the monetary damages were relatively small, the legal bills were so substantial that LCG was forced to sell most of its vacant land to cover the costs. More importantly, the remedies imposed by the court were draconian:

  1. Eliminate all references to Methodist or Christian terms in all descriptions of the campground, its housing, and signage.
  2. Eliminate all portions of Bylaws, the constitution, and any rules and regulations that identify, state or reference a religious belief or preference, including religious terms such as “Christian”.
  3. Participate in quarterly monitoring for five years. LCG had to pay for this monitoring.
  4.  The court then gave four prohibitory injunctions against LCG and four affirmative reliefs.

R. Stanley Sutton

Here’s a far more relevant case: Lakeside, a Christian Chautauqua in Ohio founded in 1875 and, like Bay View, affiliated with the United Methodist Church , has never had any religious restrictions on cottage ownership– anyone of any faith tradition can buy a cottage. Yet, in all those years, Christian ownership of cottages has never fallen below 98% and today stands at 98.6%.

2 thoughts on “Lancaster Campground

  1. I grew up in Lancaster (was baptized and confirmed in the Methodist Church and sang in the choir for five years), and the campground was never part of our lives. The letter from the former campground trustee indicates that fund raising for the auditorium has dried up because the campground no longer has a Christian membership requirement. In my memory, that auditorium was seldom, if ever, used for the kinds of programs provided by Bay View. Religious Sunday services, prayer meetings, and vesper services, plus occasional concerts and plays with religious themes, were the norm. If you look at the calendar on the Campground website (lancaster, you will see that these events are still the only uses, and they occur during a short period in the summer. I would guess that one of the reasons fundraising has been so difficult is that the auditorium is not used that much.

    Comparing the Lancaster Campground to Bay View is like comparing apples and rocks (apples and oranges are too similar). The word “Chautauqua” is used once on the campground website. I never heard the campground described as a Chautauqua, nor is it one. I do not recall that classes were offered. If a recreation program existed, it must have been minimal. (There is no lake – only a swimming pool). There was no music or arts programming except for an occasional concert by a group brought in for the occasion or an occasional play. The only Chautauqua component was the religious one. Until the whole membership requirement issue came up, I never thought of the campground and Bay View as being remotely similar. Jim and I were happy to donate to the restoration of Hall Auditorium; I cannot imagine donating to the restoration of a building used as infrequently as I recall the campground auditorium was.

    Another reason for the campground’s lack of success in fundraising is probably the central Ohio economy, and particularly the economy in Lancaster. Lancaster was a thriving town with a strong middle class until the glass factories began to close or pull out. The sale of Anchor Hocking Corporation to Newell and the subsequent closure of the headquarters offices in Lancaster were the end of an important source of jobs, particularly white collar jobs. Lancaster has had great difficulty passing referenda to support the schools. Several years ago there was a concerted – and very controversial – movement to restore the old historic grandstand at the fairgrounds, which was used for many more events that the campground auditorium. I think they finally managed to raise enough private funds for this project. (I read the Lancaster newspaper online several times a week.)

    Back to the Chautauqua idea: look at the campground calendar on the website. Bay View has more programs in a day than the campground has in the entire month of the July. Several of the programs listed are part of the Lancaster Festival, which is a two-week music festival with no relationship to the campground. None of the events are held at the campground. You will see the initials OU after one; that is the Lancaster campus of Ohio University. All the events are held in venues such as churches, the old hotel, and this campus; none (to my knowledge) are held at the campground.

    Harriet Perrin

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