The City of Frankenmuth, Mich. will not remove a 55-foot-tall steel cross from a city public park despite a demand from a secularist group that has threatened litigation.
“The cross was raised up by a grateful community. And this community will fight to keep it,” Richard Thompson, President and Chief Council of the Thomas More Law Center, said in an Oct. 5 letter on behalf of the city.
The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based public interest law firm is defending the American Bicentennial Cross at the city’s request.
The cross was built and erected in Cross Park with private funds to mark the American bicentennial in 1976. It stands on the other side of the highway from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, a major holiday store that has made the city a popular tourist destination.
The cross was erected to memorialize the sacrifices of the founding generation of Americans and the founders of Frankenmuth, which is about 80 miles northeast of Lansing. The city’s original 15 settlers had arrived from Bavaria in 1845 to establish a Lutheran religious community and to advance the conversion of the Chippewa Indians in the area.
The Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State has challenged the presence of the cross on public land. The organization said it is willing to file a lawsuit if a resident volunteers to be the plaintiff.
The group’s legal director Alex Luchenitser told Mlive.com that the cross is “an egregious constitutional violation, and violation of separation of church and state.”
“It sends a message that the city holds Christianity above all other religions and a message that non-Christians are not welcome.”
But Thompson responded that the cross’ purpose “was not to promote, endorse or coerce anyone to convert to Christianity.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has previously focused on holiday displays and other government actions it sees as favoring religion.
The group was formerly known as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It continues to lobby against Catholic efforts to secure tax credits and vouchers for private schools. The group also objects to Supreme Court justices’ attendance at the traditional Red Mass in Washington, D.C.
The organization supports the federal Department of Health and Human Services mandate that Catholics see as an intrusion on their religious liberty for requiring employers, including many Catholic colleges, charities and health care systems, to cover sterilization and contraceptives, some of which can cause an early abortion.