Michigan City Sued Over Lack of Christian Symbolism on Public Property

Michigan City Sued Over Lack of Christian Symbolism on Public Property April 3, 2015

Mitch Kahle and other local secular activists succeeded a couple months ago in getting the city of Grand Haven to remove a giant cross from public land overlooking Lake Michigan. Now some of the local Christians have filed a lawsuit claiming that not having the cross there violates their rights.

Grand Rapids-area attorney Helen Brinkman filed the suit in Ottawa County Circuit Court on behalf of a group called Citizens of Grand Haven. It asserts that City Council’s resolution in early January to make Dewey Hill no longer available as a public forum, with some exceptions, violates certain sections of the Michigan Constitution and gives the appearance that the city “is hostile to the cross as religious speech.”

Brinkman declined to name the Grand Haven residents she was representing.

“Religious people are easy to beat up on,” she said. “I’m putting my name out there so the people I represent don’t have to get bullied.”

That’s almost funny. Whether the judge will allow them to remain anonymous or not remains to be seen, but there certainly isn’t any track record of Christian plaintiffs filing such cases facing abuse and intimidate like there is for plaintiffs in Establishment Clause cases. I’m fine with them being anonymous, though. It’s the legal issues of the case that matters, and in this case their claim is rather laughable.

The suit, Citizens of Grand Haven v. the City of Grand Haven, seeks to declare that the ordinance enacted by City Council’s 3-2 vote on Jan. 5 unconstitutionally eliminates freedom of speech and expression on the public areas of Dewey Hill, and asks for equal protection against discrimination.

“We’re basically asking the judge to declare that the resolution was unconstitutional,” Brinkman said.

Yeah, good luck with that. When it comes to designated public forums, it’s all or nothing. You either have to allow no one to access the property or everyone. And in this case, you’ve got a sand dune that is a particularly sensitive environment. The city council was already considering declaring it off limits out of concern for erosion and damage even before this cross controversy started up. Eliminating the public forum in that circumstance is an entirely reasonable response. And if no one else is given access to it, losing your access does not violate your rights. This suit never makes it past a motion to dismiss.


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