The Michigan Association of Civil Rights and Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, will hold a meeting this month to solicit the public’s feedback on calls for a cross that’s been positioned along Lake Michigan for years to be torn down. The Pere Marquette Township Board will hold a special meeting on January 23rd in Ludington, Michigan, to discuss the matter further.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stated that the large cross, maintained by public funding, is unconstitutional, and both groups have indicated that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits Pere Marquette Township from publicly displaying religious propaganda.
The township wrote a letter stating they would need to hold the meeting at a larger venue to accommodate everyone who is willing to speak regarding whether the cross should be torn down. “The Township Board of Trustees understands there is much public concern and is committed to providing an opportunity for the community’s voices to be heard. We are currently looking for a facility that can accommodate a much larger crowd where we will hold a public meeting designated specifically to the Father Marquette Memorial,” the letter said.
The cross was originally built in 1955 on the spot where Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, one of the first Europeans to explore the area back in the 1600s, passed away at the age of 37. Township Supervisor Paul Keson said, “We have received numerous phone calls, most of them commenting (that) they want that memorial, they want it the way it is and where it is. They don’t want to see it torn down.”
“A cross has many meanings — it doesn’t particularly mean religion,” wrote resident Tami Brzak Robb. “I see this cross every day across the lake driving to work, it is beautiful. It is about the man who discovered the shoreline, a market of his great expedition in finding land and a marker in remembrance of his death.”
“If it comes to the point where this historical landmark is forced to be taken down, hopefully, it could be placed on private property to still be viewed by all,” wrote Patti Price. “Hopefully we could replace it with a statue of Father Marquette if it goes that far.”
A marker at the site reads: “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.”
The cross is not the only marker that has publicly acknowledged Marquette’s feats. There are several towns in the Midwest named after him, as well as landmarks and parks. A statue also stands in the U.S. Capitol’s statuary hall.