Time to draw a line in the sand and fight for the cross.

December 21, 2017

Photo by Todd Reed, used with permission.

Time to draw a line in the sand and fight for the cross.

Editorial by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Last week, MCP posted a story about a Muskegon atheist who is threatening Pere Marquette Charter Township with legal action if the township does not remove the cross from the Father Marquette Shrine. Commenters on MCP’s Facebook page overwhelmingly agreed that Mitch Kahle and his so-called Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists has gone too far this time. 

The time has come for a line to be drawn in the sand and for us to fight to keep the cross at the Father Marquette Shrine and to keep it under the ownership of Pere Marquette Charter Township, even if it means taking this case to the US Supreme Court.

The site of the shrine is located on South Lakeshore Drive on the Buttersville Peninsula. It is the location of the burial ground of Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan’s first European settlement, Sault Ste. Marie, and later founded St. Ignace. In 1673 Marquette and Louis Jolliet were the first Europeans to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River. Their expedition traveled to within 435 miles of the Gulf of Mexico but turned back at the mouth of the Arkansas River. Upon returning, in 1675, Marquette died, at the age of 37, on what later became known as the Buttersville Peninsula just south of modern Ludington.

The official historical marker, sanctioned by the state of Michigan, that stands at the site states:

“Father Jacques Marquette, the great Jesuit missionary and explorer, died and was buried by two French companions somewhere along the Lake Michigan shore on May 18, 1675. He had been returning to his mission at St. Ignace which he had left in 1673 to go exploring in the Mississippi country. The exact location of his death has long been a subject of controversy. A spot close to the southeast slope of this hill, near the ancient outlet of the Pere Marquette River, corresponds with the death site as located by early French accounts and maps and a constant tradition of the past. Marquette’s remains were reburied at St. Ignace in 1677.”

Marquette’s remains were eventually removed from the site and relocated to St. Ignace. It is likely that portions of his remains were left in the original burial site, and thus, the site in Mason County is a burial ground. It is clearly commonplace for municipalities to own cemeteries and provide perpetual care of the grave sites. Marquette’s personal cemetery, which is owned by the township named after him, should be no exception.

Speaking about that, there seems to be some irony that the township itself is named after this man, along with the Pere Marquette River, Pere Marquette Lake and Pere Marquette Highway (“pere is the French word for “father). These are all government owned entities. Perhaps we need to change these names so someone doesn’t get offended that the blatant Christian name is displayed throughout our county. While we are at it, we need to remove the Father Marquette National Memorial, operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in St. Ignace, and also the Father Marquette statue that stands in front of Fort Mackinac, which is also operated by the DNR.

The so-called Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists claims that the issue is that a large cross stands on top of this shrine and that cross is a symbol of Christianity and therefore violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment that states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

There have been many cases in the courts about this clause. It is the opinion of the editorial team of this news organization that this clause was created to protect religion from the government rather than protecting the government from religion, as many “civil rights activists” would like us to believe.

A side note, we call Mr. Kahle’s group “so-called” because we have been unable to find any formal registration of this group with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which over sees the registration of corporations (which include non-profit organizations). If this group, in any way, takes in any type of money, it is likely violating state and federal law by not reporting taxes — how ironic.

This is not a matter of religion but rather a matter of history. A marker has existed for over a century indicating the burial site of Father Marquette. In the mid-1950s, a group of citizens used private funds to erect the formal shrine that still exists. Recently, the township has funded the renovation of the shrine.

Some have proposed that the property be deeded to another entity, such as the Mason County Historical Society, which is a private organization (which actually is registered with the state). This is a great solution, except the timing is not right. Earlier this month, the township qualified for a Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund grant for $839,400 which will go towards the purchase of 316 acres of lakefront property from Dow Chemical Company, which includes the former Dow AC Park property. One of the restrictions of this grant is that the township is unable to sell or give-away any of its existing recreational land, including the Father Marquette Shrine.

The next meeting of the township board of trustees is Dec. 28 at 4 p.m. at the township hall, 1699 S. Pere Marquette Highway. The topic of the shrine is not on the agenda but the board is expected to go into closed session to discuss legal strategy with its attorney, which it is allowed to do under the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

Many people have expressed that they will be at this meeting to express their opinions during public comment. This is a person’s right — which actually is protected under the First Amendment — but the public should know that it is most likely that the township board is siding with the overwhelming public sentiment that it needs to fight to keep the shrine as it is.

We encourage the Pere Marquette Charter Township board of trustees to fight this case to the very top. This is not just about a cross, this is about the core heritage of our county. Let’s set a precedent and send a message that Mason County welcomes the cross. 

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