How ‘pro bono’ offers to defend religious monuments are stressing local governments

By Andrew L. Seidel

It’s a shrine on public land.

The Pere Jacques Marquette Shrine was put up in the 1950s to honor a missionary who may have died there, or maybe not. There’s no real evidence to suggest the spot is special, and, wherever he was first interred, Marquette was reburied in the nearby town of Ludington, Mich. In December, the Freedom From Religion Foundation pointed out that the shrine, as it has always been known and which takes the shape of an enormous cross atop a hill, is unconstitutional. The shrine was quickly rebranded as a “memorial” and the citizens rallied around it.

Shrine or memorial — and I lean more toward shrine, given the “pilgrimages” people once made to it — no court of final resort has ever permitted a giant Christian cross to remain on government property. Such crosses, without exception, are declared unconstitutional when challenged in court.

What might tempt a small Michigan town to fight a battle that the courts have already decided it cannot win?

Well, if the city thought it had nothing to lose it might be willing to take an inevitable defeat before a judge.

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