December 2017 Church & State - December 2017

Mich. Supreme Court Declines To Hear Grand Haven Cross Case

  AU admin

The legal battle over a large cross on public property in a Michigan town is one step closer to a conclusion, five years after Americans United first challenged the unconstitutional display.

The Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in Dawson v. City of Grand Haven, a case brought by Grand Haven residents who want the cross to remain atop a hill on city property. By declining to hear the case, the state high court leaves in place the previous opinion of a Michigan appeals court that ruled the city had the right to remove the cross.

Americans United first challenged the cross in 2012 on behalf of Grand Haven residents. The nearly 50-foot cross was mounted on a hydraulic lift, and city officials would display the Christian symbol periodically on public property. AU pointed out the clear violation of church-state separation, and urged the city to remove the cross.

City officials initially balked, claiming the hill could be used as a public forum for residents to display a variety of messages. After AU said local groups wanted to use the cross’s hydraulic lift to display messages supporting abortion and LGBTQ rights, Grand Haven officials reversed course. They changed the cross into a large anchor to celebrate the town’s historical connection to the U.S. Coast Guard. (The city of about 11,000 residents is located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.)

A group of residents claimed the city’s removal of the cross somehow violated their free-speech rights, however, and sued Grand Haven to have the cross restored. Michigan courts consistently upheld the city’s right to remove the cross, and Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the city.

Helen Brinkman, an attorney representing the seven residents who want the cross restored, told the Grand Haven Tribune they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s unfortunate, that no matter what we did, we were facing litigation,” Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis told the Tribune. “The city is trying to protect the taxpayers as best as they can.”

But attorneys at Americans Uni­ted believe it is unlikely that the high court will hear the case since the dispute doesn’t involve federal law.

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