Jul 31, 2012

The government-sponsored display of a large cross in Frankenmuth, Mich., violates the U.S. Constitution and must stop, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Attorneys with Americans United today wrote to Peter Goodstein, legal counsel for the city of Frankenmuth, and advised him that the continued display of the 55-foot-tall cross in Cross Park runs afoul of the separation of church and state.

“Display of this cross in a public park at taxpayer expense sends the message that Frankenmuth is an officially Christian community,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The city cannot have an official religion, and it can’t send that message.”

Americans United’s letter cites numerous court rulings holding that branches of government may not display religious symbols. It notes that the cross was dedicated during a 1976 ceremony where Christian clergy offered prayers. During the ceremony, then-Mayor Elmer Simon declared, “The simple cross of Christ assures us that life does not end with death….[F]rom our local heritage, this Christian symbol suggests that we are also a community under Christ.”

The city’s display of the cross, AU’s letter asserts, clearly amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity.

“By displaying a cross on public land, the City unlawfully endorses and promotes Christianity,” observes AU’s letter. “[T]he federal courts have repeatedly prohibited government bodies from displaying solitary crosses on public land.”

AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser said that residents of the city who are concerned about the government’s display of the cross should contact him or AU attorney Ben Hazelwood* at cg@au.org or call (202) 466-3234.

The letter requests that the cross be removed from public property and asks for an answer within 30 days.

*Admitted in New York only; supervised by Luchenitser.