Muskegon atheist demanding PM Township remove Marquette shrine.

December 15, 2017

John Mickevich photo. Used by permission.

Muskegon atheist demanding PM Township remove Marquette shrine.


By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

PERE MARQUETTE TOWNSHIP — A Muskegon atheist is threatening Pere Marquette Charter Township to remove the Father Marquette Shrine, a memorial to Father (Pere in French) Jacques Marquette, a French missionary who died near what is now Ludington, on the Buttersville Peninsula, in the 1670s.

Mitch Kahle, who states to the township board that he is representing the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists sent the letter to the township board in October.

The memorial, which is a large cross that sits on township property, has existed for decades and overlooks the lake named after Pere Marquette in the township named after him. Earlier this week, the group sent a letter to the Pere Marquette Township Board of Trustees demanding the cross be taken down, based on an anonymous complaint to the group from a person using the township boat launch near the cross.

“The large white cross is visible from many areas around Pere Marquette Lake and the City of Ludington, but mostly from the public boat launch facility and parking area where the cross looms directly overhead,” the letter states, adding that the complainant find the cross offensive and distracting. The complainant is forced to view the cross from virtually all points on the lake.”

The letter threatens legal action, claiming that it violates the so-called establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights stating that government.

The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Kahle, who is not an attorney, threatens legal action in his letter:

“MACRA and the complainant believe there is a narrow window of opportunity for a win-win solution. Because the cross itself is not historic in any way, and a contractor has already been retained to ‘demolish the existing shrine,’ we recommend permanently removing the cross from public property.

Should the cross be restored as planned (or in any form), its presence on public land, maintained by taxpayer funds will likely result in legal action against PMCT seeking a court order to compel its removal. By voluntarily removing the cross now, the PMCT Board of Trustees will prevent costly litigation in the future.”

The group, states on its Facebook page that its mission is… “To support and defend the Bill of Rights in an ongoing effort to end discrimination wherever it is found.

A search of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs data base of registered entities came back negative on the group, meaning that it does not exist as a registered non-profit corporation in the state. The group has just over 500 followers on its Facebook page and has no website.

Kahle, who is an atheist according to previous news reports about him, moved to west Michigan about three years ago. In that time, he has made attempts to have other west Michigan communities remove religious symbols.

The present shrine was erected in the mid-1950s and it is believed to be the site of Marquette’s death. Marquette was traveling north along the Lake Michigan shoreline when he died and was buried on Buttersville Peninsula. His body was later exhumed and moved to St. Ignace where a state-owned memorial exists honoring him.

The township’s attorney, Crystal Bultje of Dickson Wright PLLC in Grant Rapids stated that the township is taking the concern seriously. Township Supervisor Paul Keson said he is waiting for the township attorney to review the case before making further comment.

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