Monday, April 2, 2012

FRANKENMUTH CROSSES

Like many folks from Michigan, I first learned about the town of Frankenmuth when my Mother and Dad took all us kids there for chicken dinner.

Zehnder’s Restaurant on Main and the Bavarian Inn across the street feature all-you-can-eat chicken dinners to die for. World famous. Literally.

The town of Frankenmuth, near Saginaw in Michigan’s thumb, was settled around 1845 by German Lutheran immigrants. It’s a cutsey town, full of Bavarian architecture, awash with flowers, and brimming with hospitality.

Bonner’s, a store that sells nothing but Christmas decorations 361 days a year, celebrates the Christian heritage of the town.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors every year stroll the Covered Bridge over the Cass River, experience hot air balloon rides, play the challenging Fortress golf course or just browse the shops and enjoy the sights.

Back in 2008 a local resident complained about the two wooden crosses that decorated the entrances of the Covered Bridge. He argued that the Constitution of the United States prohibits the Congress from establishing a religion, and that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the states from abridging the immunities of citizens, one of which is to be immune from an established state religion.

The presence of the two wooden crosses on public property constituted the establishment of a religion, according to Lloyd Clark, a resident of the town. The city council obliged and removed the crosses.

Mr. Clark pushed the point, complaining that the city’s crest displayed a cross and a rose, symbols associated with the Lutheran faith.

This time the city balked. Bolstered by the head of the Michigan Atheists and representatives of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Clark presented his argument to a packed town hall meeting.

But the silent majority spoke up. St Lorenz Lutheran Church distributed some 800 small, white, wooden crosses, and soon nearly every yard in Frankenmuth sported a cross.

The city council stiffened. Mr. Clark backed off. The Atheist Association went home.

Mr. Clark has no problem with crosses on private property. Neither does the federal constitution.

And the idea that including a cross in the design of a city’s crest is somehow the establishment of a religion is a stretch of interpretation that would have surprised the founders of our nation.

Frankenmuth was established by Lutherans. The symbols on the crest recognize that historical fact. The United States Supreme Court Building is replete with religious sculptures commemorating the development of human law. Moses. Mohammed. Justinian. The ten commandments right over the front door.

The founders of our nation knew what it was like to have an established state religion. By law, the King of England was, and the Queen is today, the head of the Church of England. Defender of the Faith.

There is a great deal of religious tolerance in the United Kingdom. Still, the Church of England is the Church of England. The Church. The official Church.

We have nothing like that here. Our religious heritage is diverse. That’s why lots of folks came over here to begin with.

That heritage is not a dirty little secret. We are what we are. Not officially. Not because of any law establishing one sect or creating some official composite set of beliefs. But just because we are what we are and our forebears were what they were.

I’m sick and tired of the bloated claim that American citizens must muffle their religious convictions as the price of entering the public arena.

The Saint Patrick’s Day parade marches up Fifth Avenue. The President takes the oath of office on a bible. The United States Senate begins its session with an invocation, but a public high school graduation can’t? Come on.

It’s time to stand up. Some folks in my neighborhood have little white ‘Frankenmuth Crosses’ in their front yards. Mine went up today.

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