The Grand Haven, Michigan City Council voted 3-2 Monday night to restrict access to city-owned property on a hill overlooking the town. The approved resolution brings to an end a 50-year tradition of periodically displaying a 48-foot tall cross on the hill.
The Grand Haven Tribune reports the vote was taken up by the council at the request of Washington D.C.-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The group, led locally by Norton Shores, Michigan resident Mitch Kahle, had threatened the city with a lawsuit unless it too was able to place displays of its choosing atop the hill.
The group claimed the the cross promoted Christianity on city-owned property, which they said was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The Associated Press reports the policy for Dewey Hill — which is actually a dune — states the rules will “limit intrusion on the dune, protect vegetation, limit erosion, reduce debris and litter and generally preserve the dune from adverse impacts.”
Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb opposed the rules change.
“It’s sad to see a 50-year-old tradition laid to rest,” McCaleb said.
Recently the city had limited the raising of the cross to times corresponding with a summertime Sunday evening worship service sponsored by First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.
Under the new rules the cross will be transformed into an anchor. Mayor Pro-tem Michael Fritz said that was a reasonable compromise.
“You can look up there and see an anchor and think it’s a cross in your mind,” Fritz said. “The anchor is more acceptable in everybody’s eyes. We have to move forward.”
Americans United attorney, Alex Luchenitser, said before the vote that the new rules, if passed, would likely appease the organization.
"It (removes) the constitutional violations we're complaining about," he said. “Litigation would be very likely if the city didn't approve it.”