Group complains about ‘three wise men’ atop public school

NEWAYGO, Mich. — Christmas music playing over speakers and festive decorations throughout downtown illustrate Newaygo’s holiday spirit. However, a group has taken issue with a display overlooking the town.

The three wise men, a biblical reference to the birth of Jesus Christ, and the Star of David sit atop a public elementary school. Mitch Kahle, a member of the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA), said his group received a complaint and photos of the display from an area resident.

“We’ve asked the school to remove what is, in essence, a nativity scene from the top of the school and from school property. If this were on private property this wouldn’t be an issue,” Kahle explained.

He said his group wrote a letter to Newaygo Public School’s superintendent. MACRA posted about their complaint on Facebook which has led to hundreds of responses that are mostly in favor of keeping the display.

“We understand that these situations sometimes will make people upset, but just like in Grand Haven where their nativity scene had been up for 70 years, that’s now been gone for 5 years. The city council voted to remove it, and no complaints about it now,” Kahle said.

Newaygo Public Schools superintendent Peg Thelen Mathis issued the following statement in response:

“We have received a complaint from MACRA.  We are working with our attorneys to formulate an appropriate response. We are in no way seeking a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion.”

Mathis went on to post a public letter on her Facebook page comparing the tradition of the wise men on the camels to other purposeful traditions of the school.

“Newaygo Public Schools has a legitimate secular purpose for the display. We are both upholding the community’s tradition of celebrating a public holiday and attempting to point towards the importance of wisdom, knowledge, and open-mindedness. They’ve been described as the scientists of their time. The “wise men” are found in secular and other religious traditions outside of Christianity. Finally, there is no evidence that they were Jewish or Christian before their travels and there is nothing noted in the Christian Bible to indicate anything about any religion they practiced after their travels”.

Mathis continued to write, she plans to navigate these complaints fairly and legally but to her knowledge there isn’t a case law prohibiting the depiction of three non-christian middle eastern men on camels who are seeking wisdom.

Newaygo resident Sandy Emmerick told FOX 17, “I personally don’t judge. This is their opinion. This is my opinion.”

Emmerick and several other the people FOX 17 spoke to in town said the display has been there for decades. It’s the view from her front window at Market 41 antique shop.

“I’m a Christian and this is our little town in Newaygo, and we enjoy it,” she said.

Barbara Boelkins, a Newaygo resident said, “The symbols of Christianity and Christ’s birth mean a lot to me and to other people who are believers. So I’m glad to stand up and say, ‘Leave it alone’.”

State representative Jon Bumstead posted his support for the display on Facebook.


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  • Brian Westley

    “The symbols of Christianity and Christ’s birth mean a lot to me and to other people who are believers. So I’m glad to stand up and say, ‘Leave it alone’.”

    This is why it needs to come down.

      • Brian Westley

        I’d prefer neither, though the courts have said Santa isn’t religious and that might make it OK. But you aren’t really asking a question, you’re just trolling.

  • Sick of the crap

    Why can’t people mind their own business?! If you don’t want to participate, don’t. But don’t crap on everybody else’s enjoyment. Or better yet just go off yourself you miserable waste of oxygen.

  • Tired of Kahle

    Kahle hates everything to do with Christianity. Yet he does NOT have the guts to take on Islam (as he knows they will kill him).

  • Kevin Rahe

    The test of whether a municipality or public institution is promoting a religion is whether anyone who doesn’t subscribe to that religion experiences or even perceives discrimination against them because of it. If the majority of people in a community belong to a particular sect, it is not inappropriate for that community to display popular elements of that sect, especially if those elements involve a positive message for everyone.

  • Tabbitha

    After 70yrs this is a problem? Mind you the issue comes from the generation eating tide pods, snorting condoms and drinking tampon juice. Stop getting butt hurt! This is my hometown! This is something I look forward too every year!

  • J.B.

    For some reason it is only the Christian religion that this MACRA legal team always seems to target…..
    Maybe they should go hangout in Dearborn for awhile…….
    Lots of “in your face” public religion going on there totally unchecked and unharnessed…

  • Richard L Start

    Thoman Jefferson used government bulding for church services
    Hugo Black and his misuse of Thomas Jeffersons turn of the phrase “separation of church and State”.
    If you search out the history of this phrase it gets even worse! We need to stop using it. Mostly because we are all built with self censoring devices. We have eyes that close, heads that turn, can plug our ears and have means to leave if we don’t want to be where we are. Isn’t it better to allow people a little freedom of expression instead of creating world of dullness none can tolerate?

  • Canoe Lady

    I relocated to this small town over 30 years ago from the east side of the state. I chose this community for its values, welcoming residents, low crime rate, and most of all, it’s excellent education system. As a small business owner, I cherish driving through town after dark and viewing the three wise men standing watch on the heights. Following the star to greatness. Yes, th is a symbol of the biblical birth of Jesus the Christ, but it serves as an example to always follow your dreams for every youth who looks up that hill in the early winter season. Leave the wise men right where they have resided for the past 70 years…it is time that others seek the wisdom they Port tray!

  • Rob Kurylowicz

    Just agree to take them down, could take months….you gotta find a contractor, then schedule a date to have them removed, which could be a few weeks to do, then equipment damage takes a couple weeks to get parts. The way I see it the could still be up in July.

  • Bob

    Identify the area resident who complained. I bet the person is not from the area. Ignore the complaint and make Kahle and the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists to file a lawsuit. Christmas and the display will be over and done before the case gets to court.

  • We the people

    Shame on fox 17 for even promoting this topic, this is not news it’s cry me a whining river, cuz 1 person doesn’t like something that is good , just like the pot thing where its praised as something good but look at how many lives will be ruined by it, i say BOYCOTT FOX 17.

  • donna


  • SoSad

    Oh my, I’d say Sick, Tired, Tabbitha, Mac, Jerry, and Bud got it exactly right. I hope the township does not give in this joy killing group. That’s why God gave us necks that turn, eyelids that close, and the means to move to a different city if we don’t like where we’re living. Love it, Richard.

  • Mary

    We are a nation based on Christianity. We are one of the most diverse country’s. Why do those who can’t be diverse in life give their opinions so openly? Shouldn’t we try to enjoy each other and our differences and similarities ? Give thanks, we are so blessed no matter who we call a higher power or even if we don’t. With kindest regards to all

  • Carrie Geren Scoggins Minister

    The Nativity on government land in Michigan, falls under the same ruling as the Baphomet erected in Detroit, Michigan. There is no freedom from religion!
    End Times Prophecy News Update Carrie Geren Scoggins Webcast YouTube
    #CarrieGerenScoggins #ACLJ #ACLU #CarrieGeren #CarrieTN #Carrie_TN #EndTimes #LastDays

  • Betsy Ludwick

    Mr Kahle is in error when he says that there are no complaints about the nativity being gone from Grand Haven. The people who live there talk about it in sorrow every single year since it has been gone. If people don’t want any reminder of the Christmas story then they will have to stay home with no Christmas tree, no radio on, go to no concerts and not go to any stores during this season. All of the aforementioned things will be peppered with symbols and songs that are about the real reason for Christmas. And yet they have no problem with people who swear and use vulgarity in public.


    Do not let these angry lost souls wear you down. That is what they want… They want to wear you down so they can see capitulation and hope being lost. Do not fret as always God is in control and this too shall pass. Stay together and unite! Show these sad lonely people that as a community we will thrive and most importantly love all and hate all sin.