NEWAYGO, Mich. -- The school board in Newaygo voted to keep the Three Wise Men display on top of its elementary school despite a group's objection. The decision came Monday night, along with the idea of possibly modifying the religious display.
Attorney Helen Brinkman reached out to FOX 17 after seeing the original broadcast and said the school district has every right to keep the display.
"If the government wants to display something that involves religious speech, they can do that under the constitution. They can't be forced to do it, but they can do that," Brinkman said.
She squared off with the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) a few years ago when MACRA complained about the cross on Dewey Hill in Grand Haven. Brinkman represented a group of citizens for free and fought to keep the cross. She said public bodies often cave to the demands of MACRA out of fear of being sued.
"In fact, in the city of Grand Haven case, their [meeting] minutes show that even though 900 citizens signed the petition — 900 citizens said, 'You, our governmental representative, respect our wishes and keep that cross up' — [the city] did not spend one dime in trying to keep the cross up for the citizens. They were more concerned about being sued, and they spent I don't know how many thousands on lawyers trying to keep that cross down," Brinkman explained.
"The problem is that ordinary citizens and many people in government hear the term, the phrase 'separation of church and state' and they believe that that is in the constitution and that government cannot display anything that's religious," she explained.
"It's not unconstitutional, but people believe it is because atheists repeat and the media repeats separation of the church and state," Brinkman added.
MACRA member Mitch Kahle disagrees and believes the religious displays on taxpayer funded property are unconstitutional.
Kahle explained, "There's the political side of these arguments and there's the legal side, and often the political side is what comes out first — often responding to public opinion. But then later, as lawyers start discussing the matter they start to realize that maybe we can't make these changes. Maybe it's going to be difficult for us to do that."
He said his group has requested the school remove the Star of David immediately and replace the Three Wise Men with Santa Claus and/or Frosty the Snowman.
We'll let you know how this turns out.