Ottawa County to Put Religious Sign Back in Public Park

Ottawa County to Put Religious Sign Back in Public Park January 30, 2015

Well this was inevitable. As soon as the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners got involved after the parks and rec department removed a sign with a Bible verse from a public park, you knew they were going to reverse that decision and put the sign back. You don’t get reelected without pandering to the Christian right in West Michigan.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners voted 9-2 Tuesday to re-install a religious sign at Hager Park. There will also be a disclaimer attached saying the county does not necessarily endorse the sign.

Opening prayer set the stage for the commissioners’ meeting, which included a passionate debate about religion and politics in Ottawa County after the sign was removed when some complained it violated the separation of church and state…

County commissioners eventually returned from an hour in closed session with a decision to return the sign as part of a memorial for Titus Hager, who donated land to the park. Also included will be an informational sign letting people know the county does not endorse any religious views.

They got a legal opinion from their attorneys on this, but that opinion makes clear that just putting up a disclaimer is not enough. That legal memo says that while having the sign there is not a violation of the Establishment Clause, its presence makes it necessary to have a limited public forum in the park and allow other signs as well. It isn’t clear that the board did so explicitly at the meeting, but the next step is obviously for other groups to start submitting their own signs. If the board refuses them, they are going against their own attorney’s legal advice and that likely voids their liability insurance. They should ask the Dover school board how that works out for them. Here’s the legal memo:

Hager Legal Opinion

"Impeachment Two, Electric Boogaloo."

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