Civil rights group demands removal of 70-year-old cross in Michigan

(Pixabay/MartinStr)Representative image: A civil rights group has called for the removal of a 70-year-old cross on top of Sackrider Hill in Jackson County, Michigan.

A civil rights group has called for the removal of a large white cross that sits on a state-owned property in Jackson County, Michigan.

The cross on Sackrider Hill in the Waterloo Recreation Area has been the subject of an official complaint filed by the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) on behalf of a local resident.

The display has stood on top of the hill since 1950 and serves as a spot for an annual Easter Sunday sunrise service.

In a letter to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), MACRA officials requested that the display be removed immediately, arguing that its location on a state-owned property is unconstitutional.

"What authority did the state think it had to allow a permanent religious symbol on public land? We expect the state will remove it. Courts are not favorable to crosses on public property," said MACRA co-founder Mitch Kahle, as reported by MLive.

DNR public information officer, Eric Golder, noted that the agency has received MACRA's complaint and is thoroughly reviewing it internally with consultation from the state Attorney General's Office.

Meanwhile, the Grass Lake Ministerial Association, which is hosting this year's sunrise service, said that the event will go on as planned on Easter Sunday, April 1.

"It's a tradition that's always been there. It gives the community more unity," said Rev. Melvin Parker, the president of the association.

The community Easter sunrise service has been held on Sackrider Hill since the mid-1930s. But during the early days, the cross was taken to the summit on Good Friday and immediately removed after Easter.

Kahle noted that MACRA would not have a problem if the community decides to resume that practice and stressed that it only objects to the permanent installation of the religious symbol.

"We have no objection to groups legally filing to assemble on government property. It's the installed icon and the fact the state granted a permit allowing it that we object to," he said.

The cross had drawn complaints back in 1992 after a photograph of it was published in The Ann Arbor News. A campaign was launched at the time to save the display, and Philip Hoffman, who was a state representative back then, petitioned the cause all the way to then Gov. John Engler.

Reports indicated that no violation of separation and state was found at the time, with State Parks Chief Russell Harding arguing that the cross "has been a traditional use on the hill that is compatible with uses in state parks."

In April 1992, the Grass Lake Ministerial Association obtained a permanent-use permit from the DNR for the placement and maintenance of the cross on Sackrider Hill for as long as the association exists.

MACRA has obtained a copy of the permit as well as a letter from the then Waterloo Recreation Area park manager, outlining requirements for the location, appearance and maintenance of the cross. The organization said the letter and permit was "disturbing" because it represents "significant entanglement between religion and government."

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