Appeals court hears Dewey Hill cross case

Alex Doty • Dec 15, 2016 at 8:00 AM

The Michigan Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Wednesday regarding a case that seeks to reverse a 2015 ruling regarding the Dewey Hill cross lawsuit.

In August 2015, Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing threw out a lawsuit filed by a group of Grand Haven citizens who asked that judges rule against a January 2015 Grand Haven City Council resolution that no longer allows a cross to be raised on Dewey Hill.

The resolution followed 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.

Attorney Helen Brinkman, who represents the Grand Haven residents, said they filed an immediate appeal once Hulsing made his decision.

Brinkman argues that the cross, which was first erected on the hill in the early 1960s, was part of a public forum that could not be taken down — or it would be considered religious discrimination — unless the city closed the forum entirely.

“It’s a limited public forum, and a limited public forum is limited to what the original figures of speech were,” she said.

Brinkman noted that she thought the city would be protected under this ruling.

“I think it is the best resolution,” she said.

In his 2015 decision, Hulsing wrote that the city has the right to decide what to do with its own property, and also noted in his decision that the plaintiffs disagreed with a policy decision of the Grand Haven City Council.

“That government speech offends portions of the electorate is to be expected,” Hulsing wrote. “The alternative is no alternative in that the government could not take a position on any matter. The City of Grand Haven’s resolution limiting the fixture to promoting the United States Coast Guard and the city’s long relationship with the Coast Guard is a valid exercise of its inherent authority to establish policy. Should plaintiffs seek to change that policy, they are free to do so through political means.”

Brinkman said Wednesday that she isn’t sure when the Court of Appeals would make its ruling.

“We did request an opinion before Christmas, but it can take weeks and weeks,” the attorney said. “It would be a nice Christmas present to the citizens of Grand Haven.”

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