GRAND HAVEN, Mich. -- A giant cross on city-owned land in Grand Haven is sparking a major debate after a group questioned if it violates the separation of church and state.
Wednesday night, both sides of the controversy met to voice their opinions.
People on both sides of the debate were very passionate about their position, whether it’s to take the cross down, or leave it up.
A packed library basement with people overflowing into the hallways, quite possibly violating fire code, just to talk about the 48 foot high and 28 foot wide cross on Dewey Hill.
“The cross is certainly one of those issues that gets to the heart of the faith of this community and as such it can be a very divisive and controversial issue,” said Brian Plescher, an advocate for taking the cross down.
Six panelists on either side fielded questions from the community, and tensions boiled over at times.
Each attendee was allowed to write questions on a notecard so the panelists could answer. Conduct was a big concern at the meeting after two Facebook groups, one for taking the cross down, the other to keep the cross up, have been fueling the conflict.
“There's been a lot of discussion on this and some of it is heated, It’s a good idea to get out there face-to-face instead of posting on the internet,” said John Hayes, a civil litigation attorney, who leans on the side of keeping the cross on Dewey Hill.
However, one important member of this meeting was missing, a representative from the city, who supplied the moderator with a brief and vague statement to read.
“The city has received a request to remove the cross, followed by a request to place a variety of other displays on Dewey Hill. We are in the process of considering these requests.”
Brian Plescher, a former Christian pastor, says the cross on Dewey Hill has less to do with being anti-religious and more about separating church and state.
“For us it's realizing that there are a number of people in this community, even though it’s a predominantly a Christian city, who aren't Christian,” said Plescher.
Hayes takes the opposite stance and says the cross can absolutely stay but on one condition.
“There needs to be equal access and the city has that in their policy. That’s going to be a problem the city will have to sort through in their permit process,” said Hayes.
Plescher, who recently converted to Judaism, was trying to make a point about why he does not support the cross, but his words were taken a different way.
“If I’m on the boardwalk with my family, and we look up and see the cross, it says, whether you intend to say it or not, that this is a Christian city,” said Plescher.
As he finished his sentence the majority of the room started clapping and screaming with confirmation that they do want Grand Haven to be known as a Christian city, despite making others feel marginalized.
One woman stood up to tell everyone in the room that the cross was designed, engineered, and installed with a specific purpose and function in mind. If the city chooses to take the cross down, that's not the only thing they'll be doing away with.
“If you take down the cross you take down the anchor that represents our city, U.S. Coast Guard city of America. It will do away with the star. You can't take down one without the other. It was intended to be engineered that way.”
At Wednesday night’s meeting it is clear that the city has two options: let the cross stay, and let other groups put symbols on the hill, or take the cross down, and have nothing on top of the hill at all.
It is unclear which direction they will go.