The U.S. Supreme Court this week wrote the final chapter of the Grand Haven cross saga when the justices refused to hear a case brought by a handful of people who wanted a large cross to be displayed on public land in Michigan.
The story began in 2012 when Americans United, acting on behalf of several Grand Haven residents, asked city officials to stop displaying a nearly 50-foot cross atop a hill on city-owned property.
City officials initially balked, claiming the hill and hydraulic lift on which the cross was mounted could be used as a public forum for residents to display the messages of their choice.
Grand Haven officials ultimately did the right thing in 2015 and agreed to stop displaying the cross after AU alerted them that local folks wanted to use the public space to display messages that included support for abortion and LGBTQ rights. The city council agreed to permanently convert the cross into an anchor, which honored the Lake Michigan town’s historic ties to the U.S. Coast Guard.
However, a small group of Grand Haven residents wanted the cross to stay and claimed the city’s transformation of it into an anchor somehow violated their free-speech rights. The residents sued, filing Dawson v. City of Grand Haven that same year.
Michigan courts consistently upheld the city’s right to end displays of the cross, and Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the city.
The Michigan Supreme Court last October refused to hear an appeal in the case. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court did the same. That means the lower court’s ruling will stand – Grand Haven does not have to display the cross.
The outcome is a win for church-state separation. When any government displays religious symbols, it sends the message that a particular faith is favored and that residents who don’t believe in that faith don’t have an equal voice in the community.
Government should foster an inclusive environment that welcomes people of all faiths and beliefs while favoring none. Grand Haven’s decision to stop displaying a Christian cross on city property does just that.
(Photo of Grand Haven’s cross-turned-anchor by Marie Havenga/Grand Haven Tribune)