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Groups call for removal of cross from Lake Michigan shore

By the Associated Press • Dec 21, 2017 at 2:00 PM

LUDINGTON (AP) — Two groups are calling for the removal of a large cross that has stood on public land along the Lake Michigan shoreline for more than 60 years.

The Michigan Association of Civil Rights and the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation say the Father Marquette cross, which is maintained with public funding, is unconstitutional. Both groups have sent Pere Marquette Township letters about the cross.

The First Amendment's Establishment Clause prohibits Pere Marquette Township from displaying and maintaining the religious symbol, said Mitch Kahle, the association's president.

The two groups have also criticized the township's nearly $75,000 renovation project for the cross, the Ludington Daily News reported.

The association's letter was spurred by a complaint from a person who uses a public boat launch near the cross and "finds the cross offensive and distracting," Kahle said. The association has declined to release the individual's name, citing safety concerns.

The association may take legal action if the cross isn't removed.

The Establishment Clause is typically applied to legislation that favors a religious establishment or practice. There are conflicting precedents regarding the clause's application to religious monuments on public land.

Township officials are scheduled to meet with the township's lawyer later this month to discuss the issue. Township attorney Crystal Bultje has been drafting an opinion on the issue since officials received the letters.

"To many, the Father Marquette Memorial represents an important part of the area's history — however, the township is taking the concerns seriously," Bultje said. "This is a complicated matter that deserves careful consideration."

The large white cross is lit at night and can be seen from nearly every point of Pere Marquette Lake.

The cross is named after French missionary Father Jacques Marquette, who was among the first Europeans to explore the Michigan coastline in the 1670s. The cross was built in 1955 on the spot where he supposedly died.

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