Last month, we found out that city officials in Ludington, Michigan had made a serious error. They voted to spend $75,000 (of taxpayer money) to upgrade the Father Jacques Marquette Shrine, which included a large Christian cross. The cross had been there since 1955, but it became a Michigan State Historic Site in 1966 (making it public property), and now the city was going to pay for renovations of the Christian monument.
If they went through with it, church/state separation groups vowed to file lawsuits since no public money should be spent fixing up deteriorating crosses. It’s now up to the Pere Marquette Township board whether they want to go through with the renovation (and get sued) or remove the cross entirely.
On Tuesday night, at a public hearing about the case, many citizens argued that the town should keep the cross right where it is (surprise, surprise). That’s not exactly news. These kinds of hearings routinely draw out conservative Christians who think the legal system is a popularity contest.
But what really stood out was the reason some speakers gave for why the cross should stay in place. They didn’t cite their faith. Instead, they said taking down the cross would be like removing Confederate statues from the South.
“Being from the south, I’ve watched the steady progression of these minority groups taking our heritage away,” said Jimmy Strange, who has lived in the Ludington area for 34 years. “It started with the Confederate flag … and it’s progressed right up through Charlottesville and now it’s come to rest in Ludington, Michigan.”
Tom Anderson, who called the Father Marquette cross a grave marker and memorial, had similar sentiments.
“I have a confederate flag,” Anderson said. “I’d like to fly it. I’m a little cautious about it because some people take offense because they look at a Confederate flag as representing some discrimination against blacks.
“I happen to believe that a lot of the Civil War was fought over a difference between state rights and federal government rights.”
Those ignorant citizens who apparently don’t give a damn about slavery are making a clear case for why the cross needs to come down: It represents an idea that our government shouldn’t be promoting.
If the best argument for keeping a Christian cross up is that you’d feel sad since those damn minorities already took away your symbols of white supremacy, you’re better off keeping your mouth shut.
The good news is that the town board wasn’t swayed by any of this.
[Town attorney Crystal Bultje] told the roomful of people that the board had been advised against holding the hearing because it could leave the impression the decision about the cross is based on a “popularity contest.” Rather, the decision will be based on a legal “Lemon test” used in the past to settle similar disputes, Bultje said. That test says the memorial can stay if it meets three requirements: it has a secular purpose, it is doesn’t inhibit or advance religion, and it doesn’t “create excessive entanglement with religion,” she said.
She’s absolutely right, and she would know that the cross doesn’t meet those requirements. It’s an advertisement for Christianity, plain and simple. The town can easily honor Father Marquette without endorsing a particular religion in the process.
The town hasn’t decided what to do yet, but this shouldn’t be hard to figure out. You have church/state separation groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists making sound legal arguments for why the cross must be removed… and you have a couple of Christians who lie awake at night crying over Confederate statues from back in the good old days when white people owned black people.
This isn’t complicated. It was never complicated. And after Tuesday night, the decision is even easier.