Lawyer in Grand Haven cross case weighs in on Newaygo display

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.

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11 comments

  • Bobbie Sue

    Who belongs to the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists. Maybe people should protest outside their houses like liberals protest against people in the Trump admisistration.

  • C

    Great. Now, if pragmatic thinking, common sense, and the popular opinion of many would now be used to tell a single individual or small group to go to hell, the country as a whole would benefit.

  • Kevin Rahe

    So Mr. Kahle’s complaint isn’t that a government body is trying to indoctrinate citizens into a religion, but rather merely that this display might be technically illegal by some people’s interpretation? I can respect going after someone who abides by the letter of the law while clearly violating its spirit. But going after someone who upholds the spirit of the law just because some people might find it doesn’t adhere to the letter of it deserves no respect at all.

  • Eric Grimm

    Not every day you get to see attorney malpractice (here, by Helen Brinkman) televised. Helen, wishful thinking about how you would change the law if you were in charge, is not the same thing as objective legal analysis. You are never going to be in charge. And churches are hemorrhaging members. “None” is by far the fastest-growing demographic, when it comes to religious self-identification. More Atheists and Agnostics than Catholics, today, in America. Except in prison. Prisons are filled with Christians, but have hardly any Atheists. Think about that. Doesn’t the evidence confirm that unbelief and reason make people good and moral — not medieval or Bronze Age superstition? People choosing to reject false, authoritarian, religious doctrines (including yours) is a good thing. For those not ready yet to liberate themselves from false theological doctrines, you have every right to believe or not according to your own conscience. But leave GOVERNMENT out of it, thanks. “Losing religion” is a misnomer … it is actually freedom and liberation from the tyranny of false gods and irrational superstition. You have nothing to lose but the chains of oppression.

    • Kevin Rahe

      Which doctrine of a major religion, if accepted and put into practice, tends to get one thrown in jail? Or are you saying that those who reject religion are more likely to adhere to it’s moral teachings than those who stick with it? Or, a third possibility, and one with which I’d agree, are you acknowledging that doing what is moral and refusing to cooperate with immorality increasingly leads to the possibility of jail time, a reality being experienced more acutely by our neighbors to the north as of late than by us so far here in the U.S.?

    • Kevin Rahe

      I will say that the Church is much more of a hospital for sinners than a museum for saints. At least your sentiments would seem to agree with that.

  • merlynleroy

    Should the Newaygo school board listen to a lawyer that sued Grand Haven (and lost) when they took down the cross? Helen Brinkman seems to think towns are required to promote her religion.

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