The United States has long held separation of church and state as a fundamental principle. In order to prevent religion from holding too much sway over the functions of government that affect people of all faiths, the two are kept apart. Problems arise when strict secularism infringes on the religious rights of a few. In Frankenmuth, Mich., a privately funded cross was recently erected in a public park. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint in July and may file a lawsuit since the city has not removed the 55-foot tall structure.

The separation between organized religion and state property has been a part of American discourse since the late 19th century. Other democratic nations have similar principles in place. In France, laïcité controversially prevents Muslim women from wearing the hijab, or burka, in government-sponsored public schools. Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United, stated that the cross “sends a message that the city holds Christianity above all other religions and a message that non-Christians are not welcome.”

According to the U.S. Court of Appeals decision ACLU v. Mercer County in 2005, religious displays on public property are allowed when the display’s purpose is secular. The city of Frankenmuth has stated that its cross celebrates the 200th birthday of the U.S. in 1976 and the history and culture of the city itself. The three-pronged Lemon test established in Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971 establishes that any government legislation “must have a secular legislative purpose; must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion,” and “must not result in an ‘excessive government entanglement’ with religion.” A violation of any one of these results in the unconstitutionality of the law.

The cross was assembled by a private organization, not the city of Frankenmuth. However, since the property is public rather than private — and though the park is named “Cross” — it should be removed. Americans have the right to express their religion, but not in such a fashion. The cross is a permanent fixture and should be taken down, if not for the logical reason of its potential to offend the populace or even Frankenmuth tourists, then for the principle behind the separation of church and state.

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