Frankenmuth, Michigan is an unusual little town. The whole place is based around the Christmas industry and the population is heavily German and Lutheran. A few years ago, a local resident raised a stink about a cross on the city seal but decided not to file suit over it. Now Americans United has written to the city council about a huge cross on pubic property there.
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.”
Sounds obvious enough. The questions is whether any resident of the city will agree to be a plaintiff in a legal challenge when the city council inevitably ignores the problem.