Legal Headache: Michigan City Faces Lawsuit Over Decision To Stop Displaying Cross On Public Land

Apr 8, 2015

Courtesy file photo/Brandon Davis

By Simon Brown

A Michigan city that decided to stop displaying a large cross on a publicly owned hill in response to a complaint by Americans United is now facing a lawsuit from some residents who want to put the cross back up.

Over the last three years, Americans United sent a series of letters to officials in Grand Haven on behalf of residents who objected to a 48-foot tall, 24-foot wide cross on Dewey Hill. The city, which has a population of about 11,000, had displayed the cross in conjunction with summer religious festivals, Easter and Christmas. In December, the hill also played host to a large nativity scene.

The summer festival, “Worship on the Waterfront,” is a ten-week event sponsored by the First Reformed Church. A group called the Worship on the Waterfront Committee pays rent to a local stadium to host the event. But despite that rental fee, there was still some cost to local taxpayers associated with city employees who raised and lowered the cross, which is attached to a hydraulic lift.

City officials considered allowing other groups to use the lift to display private messages but rejected that option after some residents, with Americans United’s assistance, expressed interest in erecting messages promoting atheism, LGBT rights and women’s rights. Instead, the city decided in January that the cross will be permanently converted into an anchor. The change, town officials said, will further cement the community’s historic ties to the Coast Guard. (Grand Haven, which is located on Lake Michigan, sponsors an annual Coast Guard Festival.)


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17 comments on “Legal Headache: Michigan City Faces Lawsuit Over Decision To Stop Displaying Cross On Public Land

  • The constitution says the state cannot promote a religion. You don’t get to opt out by having a local referendum any more that you can institute slavery locally. But the law is administered by highly corrupt people, sometimes with no loyalty to the constitution. It is amazing that decisions are ever constitutional.



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  • apparently some locals are unable to move on

    Well tough ***t, aren’t we a maudlin bunch – anonymous residents hire grandstanding attorney to dry tears.

    If the thing has to stay, secure to terra firma, cover with small pebbles and voilà, instant nighthawk nesting.



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  • With all the money they have or willing to throw away on stupid stuff like this. Why not put solar panels around it make it some what useful.



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  • I wonder if this is a battle we should be fighting.

    Suing small towns to force the removal of religious symbols plays into the “angry atheist” stereotype – we become the Grinches trying to ban Christmas. Let them have their silly cross if they wish – there are bigger fish to fry. I’m far more concerned about what is being taught in our schools to impressionable young people than I am by this bunch of nitwit councillors in a tiny town out in the sticks.



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  • john.wb
    Apr 9, 2015 at 11:57 am

    I wonder if this is a battle we should be fighting.

    Suing small towns to force the removal of religious symbols plays into the “angry atheist” stereotype

    You seem to have it backwards. it is the religious groups who are suing the town for adhering to the constitution, not the atheists suing!

    we become the Grinches trying to ban Christmas. Let them have their silly cross if they wish –

    Letting those who make an unjustified fuss have their own illegal way because they make an unjustified fuss, or try to put derogatory labels on others, is a very bad move!

    there are bigger fish to fry. I’m far more concerned about what is being taught in our schools to impressionable young people than I am by this bunch of nitwit councillors in a tiny town out in the sticks.

    And caving in on these sort of issues, invites them to have a go at the schools next!!

    Much better that they pay to go to court and lose!



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  • I do take your point, and sometimes feel the same way in certain cases, but this is a very in-your-face example. They can hoist their cross in the stadium that they are paying rent for during their festival. Sticking it on public land high on a hill to lord it over the town when non-Christian symbols aren’t allowed the same privilege was rightly challenged in my view.

    There’s plenty of church and Christian-owned land in the US, so why do they constantly demand their symbols get put up on public land? It can only be to try and support their “Christian nation” claims. The more of these kinds of fight they lose, the sooner they’ll stop assuming privilege for themselves.



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  • Hi Alan

    You seem to have it backwards. it is the religious groups who are suing the town

    In their complaint they say that the cross was part of a monument donated more than 50 years ago as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the US Coast Guard. They say that last year a group (of grinches 🙂 threatened the council with legal action if they didn’t remove said cross. So basically our side started it.

    It makes us sound like a bunch of bullies. It makes the concerned citizens of New Haven sound like good and righteous little Davids, standing up to the Atheist Goliath. At least that’s how many will interpret this. I hate that.

    And caving in on these sort of issues, invites them to have a go at the schools next!

    I don’t buy the slippery slope argument, (although I admit it’s been extraordinarily successful for the gun lobby).

    We have to be careful in fighting all these little battles that we don’t lose sight of the big picture; winning the hearts and minds of the majority. Take a leaf out of the playbook of the LGBT movement. For years the word “gay” was just about synonymous with “pervert”. We went from that to legalized gay marriage in around a decade – thanks in large part to a conscious effort on the part of those fighting for gay rights to change public perceptions. Once people began to see that gays were no different to themselves, things moved very quickly. So it will be with atheists if we can change the public perception. I fear that incidents such as this do not help the cause.



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  • Hi Paul

    this is a very in-your-face example

    Not really. If you read the background you find that the cross was part of a memorial (a large memorial but a memorial nevertheless) that was donated more than 50 years ago – and everyone was happy until a bunch of elitist east coast liberals (probably commies I don’t doubt!) came along and threatened them with legal action.

    Recently there was a case about a judge in one of the Southern states who decided it would be a great idea to have the ten commandments inscribed at the entrance to the courthouse. That’s a blatant violation of the constitution and I was quite happy he was ordered to have it removed. There was a battle we should have fought. But in this case we’re talking about something that’s been here for a long time, is part of the community and moreover is specifically to memorialize brave men and women who lost their lives, the majority of whom were undoubtedly of the Christian faith. Were it up to me I would let them keep their cross.



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  • It’s a symbol. That’s all. Would Jesus sue to keep his cross standing? Did he go right up to Pilate and demand it be erected again? He was fresh risen from the grave it would have been very effective! No. He gave instruction for them to minister to others.

    Christians fight all the dumbest fights when they should be following Jesus’ example.



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  • I ask the forgiveness of all, for praying the hydraulic bits fail, and during a windstorm it falls over in the opposite direction, crushing the flagpole. That, ladies and gentlemen,is why we have separation of church & state. Try 100 metres/yards/furlongs whatever works.



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  • john.wb
    Apr 9, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    You seem to have it backwards. it is the religious groups who are suing the town

    In their complaint they say that the cross was part of a monument donated more than 50 years ago as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the US Coast Guard.

    So stars for the Jewish ones, a minaret for the Muslims, a masonic square and compass for the Free Masons, and a hammer and sickle for the communists???

    They say that last year a group (of grinches 🙂 threatened the council with legal action if they didn’t remove said cross.

    Don’t the illegal religious love name-calling, and playing the martyr when they are called to account!

    So basically our side started it.

    I know – it’s like those shop-keepers who call the police to arrest shop-lifters for thieving!

    It makes us sound like a bunch of bullies.

    Those mean bullying shop-keepers starting it, by calling for enforcement of the law, while the thieves screamed “victimisation”!!!



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  • Concentrating our efforts on a silly cross in one little hick town is NOT going to do anything to educate the public about religious nonsense. It only makes us look like a pain-in-the-ass. The cross on public land is an EFFECT, not a CAUSE. We have to go after the cause. No sane person would try to cure Ebola by removing those open soars on the skin. They are an effect, not a cause. Likewise with this cross; it DOES NOT cause young children to start believing nonsense. They believe nonsense because their parents teach it to them. Then, after they are indoctrinated with nonsense they put up a cross. Removing the cross does not reset their brains into a mode of logical thinking.



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  • hgldr
    Apr 11, 2015 at 11:09 am

    They are an effect, not a cause. Likewise with this cross; it DOES NOT cause young children to start believing nonsense. They believe nonsense because their parents teach it to them. Then, after they are indoctrinated with nonsense they put up a cross. Removing the cross does not reset their brains into a mode of logical thinking.

    Its a bit like removing the flag of an invading army from your nation’s public buildings.

    it does not remove the invaders, but it challenges their claim to rule unopposed!



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  • Interesting point about the cross as a monument – some kind of “artwork” which should stay because it’s old. Look at another very similar example: The Bhudda statues in Bamiyan Afghanistan – huge, 150ft tall works of art. To the Taliban, they were a religious symbols of someone else’s religion. So they blew them up.
    I was disgusted at this action. “darn Taliban!” But….whoah. Now look at us. We want a symbol of someone else’s religion destroyed.
    A few years ago, the Germans destroyed some huge works of architecture: The buildings and hotel in Obersalzburg near Berchtesgaden. They were built by the Nazis. Destroy them because those building cause Naziism. right?
    No! That cross, nor the Nazi buildings, nor the Bhudda statues cause religious nonsensical thinking. They do not cause arrogant creeps to try to teach nonsense religion to our children in school.
    Aim for the cause, not the effect.



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