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US Supreme Court rejects cross appeal

Tribune Staff • Apr 2, 2018 at 12:47 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down an appeal in a dispute over a pole that can be turned into a cross on public land in Grand Haven.

The city ended the cross display in 2015 after critics said it was an illegal endorsement of religion. Michigan courts have said the city has the power to manage the property along the Grand River.

On Monday, the nation’s top court declined an appeal by cross supporters, who say their free speech rights are being violated by the City of Grand Haven.

The Dewey Hill monument was donated to Grand Haven as a memorial for soldiers who served in the Vietnam War. The pole was turned into a cross during summer concerts sponsored by First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.

Supporters of the cross went to the U.S. Supreme Court after a request to be heard at the state level was denied in late October 2017. The Michigan Supreme Court said it would not hear an appeal on a lawsuit dismissal regarding the Dewey Hill cross.

Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing threw out the original lawsuit in 2015. The lawsuit asked the judge to rule against a January 2015 resolution by the Grand Haven City Council that no longer allows a cross to be raised on Dewey Hill. The resolution came in response to requests to the city from a group called “Remove the Grand Haven Cross” — via Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State — that they be allowed to erect displays of their choosing on the hill or the city would face a lawsuit from them.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s order said the request to appeal the Dec. 29, 2016, judgment of the state appeals court was denied because “we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this court.” 

Helen Brinkman is the attorney for the cross supporters: Ann Dawson, Jeffrey Grunow, Wayne and Shirley Erxleben, Laura Sterenberg, and Gary and Mary Kievit. A call left for Brinkman on Monday was not returned before press time.

 

Last year, Brinkman told the Tribune that said she was disappointed that the Michigan Supreme Court would not take the case.

“That’s where constitutional issues are decided,” she said in October 2017. “This is a unique factual issue and one that has been destined from the beginning to go to the United States Supreme Court. Unlike other cases, this involves an obvious public forum, as acknowledged by the resolution language and the plain operation of this forum for almost 50 years.”

That’s why the plaintiffs decided to proceed to the next step — taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s unfortunate that, no matter what we did, we were facing litigation,” Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis said for a prior story on the cross issue. “The city is trying to protect the taxpayers as best as they can.”

The Associated Press and Tribune writers Becky Vargo and Alex Doty contributed to this story.

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