P.M. TOWNSHIP — The historic Father Marquette Cross stands starkly against the skyline of Pere Marquette Lake.
It, like many Mason County icons, is named in remembrance of famed missionary Jacques Marquette, a Frenchman among the first Europeans to discover a large stretch of the Lake Michigan coastline — including Ludington — in the 1670s.
The large, Christian cross could come down, however, if an association calling for its removal succeeds.
Earlier this week, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists sent a letter to the Pere Marquette Township Board of Trustees demanding the cross be taken down. The action comes after an anonymous complaint to the association from an individual using the Pere Marquette boat launch near the cross.
“The large white cross is visible from many areas around Pere Marquette Lake and the City of Ludington, but mostly from the public boat launch facility and parking area where the cross looms directly overhead,” the association states in the letter. “The complainant … finds the cross offensive and distracting. The complainant is forced to view the cross from virtually all points on the lake.”
The association’s letter warns that, if the township does not comply, legal action will be taken.
“(The township) is clearly violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States — government is prohibited from taking any action that has a religious purpose, advances any one religion over others, or religion generally over non-religion,” according to the organization. “In this case, (Pere Marquette Township) has clearly established a religious purpose by owning and maintaining a religious shrine on public property.
“With the Latin cross, the (township) is advancing the Christian religion over all other faiths and religion generally over non-religion.”
The Establishment Clause generally comes into play when states try to pass religion-friendly legislation. There is no definite precedent regarding religious monuments on public land — a case in Utah saw a cross honoring a highway patrol officer who was killed taken down for its religious symbolism, while a statue depicting the 10 Commandments in a Texas sculpture park still stands after a judge deemed it historically significant. The U.S. Supreme Court denied to take on the Utah case and set a precedent on the clause’s application to monuments in 2010.
“To many, the Father Marquette Memorial represents an important part of the area’s history — however, the Township is taking the concerns seriously,” said township attorney Crystal Bultje, of Dickinson Wright PLLC in Grand Rapids. “This is a complicated matter that deserves careful consideration.”
Her office is still conducting a legal review and is putting together an opinion on the matter.
Bultje said she will meet with the township board to discuss the opinion later this month, though she says the opinion will not be immediately made public.
Township Supervisor Paul Keson said the township will not consider action on the issue until that meeting has been held. He declined to comment further on the matter.
See the full story in Thursday's Ludington Daily News, print or eEdition.