FFRF objects to bible verse in Mich. county park

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners recently voted to reinstate a religious sign on public property, after the county parks department took it down following a local complaint.

Hager Park, a public park, displayed a sign reading, ” ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.’ Psalm 19:1.” The sign may have been donated by the Hager family, who donated land for the park in 1960. FFRF member Mitch Kahle led the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists in persuading the board to remove the sign in December. Following a religious backlash, the board voted to return the religious signage, but it has not yet been reinstalled.

FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote the commissioners a letter on Feb. 10 urging them to remove the sign permanently. “It is inappropriate for the County to display a bible verse on a billboard in a County park because it conveys government support for religion,” she said.

“No legitimate secular purpose is served by posting a bible verse in a public park informing citizens of ‘the glory of God,’ ” wrote Markert. “This billboard serves only to express approval of religion.”

It does not matter that the sign may have been donated to the county, said Markert, quoting a Supreme Court decision that noted, “It certainly is not common for property owners to open up their property for the installation of permanent monuments that convey a message with which they do not wish to be associated.”

“Once the county accepts signage or monuments, such displays then become governmental speech, and government can’t take sides on religion,” added FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. Gaylor expressed dismay that a misguided “majority rights” argument is being made. “Our Bill of Rights protects freedom of conscience from tyranny of the majority.”

The Ottawa County Parks Department was correct in removing the sign, and the county commission should follow suit, concluded FFRF’s letter.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 21,500 members, including nearly 600 in Michigan.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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