The Freedom From Religion Foundation is more than doubling an offer that a Michigan township is mulling over for a parcel of land containing a massive cross.
The Pere Marquette Township Board is considering this evening whether to sell property containing a large Latin cross in Father Marquette Memorial Park to the Pere Marquette Memorial Association for $800. If the board decides to sell this land, FFRF asks that the board consider FFRF's offer to purchase the same parcel for $2,000.
However, FFRF contends, it would be much simpler to remove the cross from public land. There are serious issues with this type of land transfer.
First, if the board goes forward with this plan, the process should abide by all relevant laws and not simply be a sweetheart deal. "If the intent is to save the religious display, the purpose of the transfer is religious and therefore we consider it to be a legally problematic sham remedy," FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Pere Marquette Township Supervisor Paul Keson and the board.
The Pere Marquette Memorial Association's presentation to the board on Feb. 13, the group's offer itself and the board's response to the offer leave no doubt that the sole intent of this transfer would be to maintain the Latin cross at the public park. For example, the offer included a promise to fulfill the planned maintenance of the cross. This fact alone (not to mention the board's statements in support of finding a way to save the religious display) demonstrates that the board would have no secular purpose in selling the land to the Pere Marquette Memorial Association.
Second, if the sold land does continue to maintain the cross, it would have to have a substantial enclosure and disclaimer because the township must still ensure after the sale that there is no appearance of a religious endorsement. For instance, the city of Marshfield, Wis., tried a land transfer to save a 15-foot marble statue of Jesus after FFRF filed a lawsuit. The court only upheld the ensuing land transfer on the understanding that "the city (on city property) construct some defining structure, such as a permanent gated fence or wall, to separate city property from [private] property accompanied by a clearly visible disclaimer, on city property." Without fences and disclaimers, the transfer "does not relieve the continued perception of government endorsement," the court added.
In short, the board would have to do something very similar.
FFRF's preference strongly remains to have the township divest itself of the cross, not valuable lakeside public property.
"A Christian cross shouldn't be allowed on public land," says Gaylor. "It seems that the board is attempting an end-run around a constitutional prohibition by selling the property to ensure that the cross remains."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members and 20 chapters across the country, including more than 700 members and a chapter in Michigan. FFRF's purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.