Wooden Sign Featuring Old Testament Verse Will Return to Michigan Park… Alongside a Useless Disclaimer March 11, 2015

Wooden Sign Featuring Old Testament Verse Will Return to Michigan Park… Alongside a Useless Disclaimer

For most of the past 50 years, if you walked into Hager Park in Jenison, Michigan, you might have seen this sign near the picnic shelter:

It’s an Old Testament verse, Psalm 19:1:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.”

Obviously, that sign has no business in a public park…

Late last year, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) wrote a letter to Ottawa County officials demanding that the sign come down:

This biblical passage, from the Old Testament (King James version), serves no secular purpose, endorses and promotes Judeo-Christianity over other religions, and demonstrates excessive government engagement with religion. The sign violates the constitutional rights of Ottawa County residents and other taxpayers and park users who do not subscribe to the Judeo-Christian faith.

The 10 members of the Parks Commission agreed with their assessment, so they removed it.

But they reversed their decision a month later on the advice of their legal counsel:

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.

Yesterday, a new proposal was unveiled. The Bible verse sign would stay, but it would be placed next to a small memorial for the Hager family, and a sign that explains the history of the park… along with the disclaimer that the county is totally not endorsing Christianity.

I said this before, but I don’t see how that makes a difference. You can’t have government officials put up a Christian sign in a public park while pretending it’s not an promotion of Christianity.

As one commenter sarcastically put it:

We really don’t endorse this sign, but we are designing it, paying for it, installing it, and maintaining it. But really, we don’t actually endorse what it says. That’ll fly in court.

The only objection officials raised with the display was a semantic one:

On Thursday, county board members only objected to one section of the informational sign, where it describes why the Bible verse was removed. The proposed sign reads that the Bible verse was removed after a “request by citizens.” At least one county board member wanted the words “by citizens” removed, because of what it implied about the number of opponents.

“The thought was that implied that there were a large number of or at least an unknown number of citizens; there was a letter supposedly representing two citizens, and so we just took that reference out,” says John Scholtz, director of Ottawa County Parks & Recreation. “Language now will just say there was a request to remove the sign, rather than imply that there were a lot of citizens requesting to remove the sign.”

Because the problem with the sign was in how many people supposedly complained about it, not the fact that they were right.

What a disaster.

(Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of this article were posted earlier)

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