JACKSON, Mich. — A cross that has stood on a Michigan hillside since 1950 has been removed following a complaint from a local resident who asserted that crosses shouldn’t be displayed on state property.
While the cross is displayed atop Sackrider Hill in the Waterloo Recreation Area, it belongs to the Grass Lake Ministerial Association, which holds a permit to erect the display on state property. Residents who hike up the hill will find it at the top overlooking I-94.
According to a YouTube video by Brian Kruger, who hosts a local “Guess What I Found Series” to highlight landmarks in the area, local congregations have held a sunrise service every year atop the hill since the 1930’s. Evangelist George Bennard, who penned the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross,” was a participant of one of the services.
“The cross was brought up by the congregations. Every year they’d bring [it] up and set it here, and then they’d take it down and do it again next year,” he explained.
In 1950, they decided to make the cross permanent, and in 1968, after the cross was stolen on Halloween, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) helped to replace the structure.
In the 1990’s, after a local newspaper published a photograph of the cross, some residents complained that the symbol violated the “separation of Church and State,” resulting in pushback from those who supported the display. As it was concluded that no constitutional malady existed, the cross was allowed to stay.
However, the conflict was recently reignited after a local resident likewise complained about the presence of the cross on state land. The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists asked the DNR to “remove the offending” symbol, according to MLive.com.
Those in support of the cross again pushed back, creating a petition asking the DNR to save the display as it did in the 1990’s.
“The cross is a recognized landmark, has been a meaningful place for people to gather throughout history, and is part of many residents’ personal memories,” local resident Billie Dawson told reporters. “Rather than let one voice tear it down, thousands are speaking up.”
However, following a meeting with state officials, the Grass Lake Ministerial Association decided that it would be best to relocate the structure.
“Basically, it came down to, there was a cross that we didn’t own that was on land that we did own,” DNR Public Information Officer John Pepin told the Lansing State Journal. “We worked with the people that owned the cross and they voted to support removing it to a permanent location.”
The decision disappointed even Attorney General Bill Schuette, who said in a statement, “Michigan’s public landscape reflects its rich and diverse history, having been settled both by original Native American tribes and missionaries. Two of the counties of the state bear the name of such missionaries …”
“The law does not require a dismantling of our history, driving out the identity of the Michigan people from public spaces,” he contended.