by Tina Cole-Mullins
A large white cross that stood for nearly 70 years on state land in the Waterloo State Recreation Area at the top of Sackrider Hill was removed May 14 following a complaint that it violated the separation of church and state.
The complaint was filed by an unnamed lifelong resident to the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA). In a March 10 letter, Mitch Kahle, co-founder of MACRA, claimed it was unconstitutional to have a religious symbol in the state recreation area. The group asked for its removal and claimed it violated the First Amendment and Article 1, Section 4 of the Michigan Constitution.
In response, Grassroots Jackson, a volunteer-based organization, launched a campaign and petition to “Save the Jackson Cross.” Group members said they collected more than 3,000 signatures.
A local hiker contacted Grassroots Jackson after finding fresh dirt at the rise of the hill where the cross once stood.
“We have been in contact with Michigan Department of Natural Resources,” Grassroots Jackson officials said in a news release. “According to our sources, the Grass Lake Ministerial Association was contacted by the DNR regarding the complaint. The association agreed to allow the DNR to remove the cross, in hopes of a brighter future for everyone involved.”
Sackrider Hill is named for the Sackrider family, who settled in the area in the mid-1840s. About a century later, the site became a traditional gathering place of celebration for the sunrise Easter service of surrounding United Methodist communities.
In early years, a cross was carried up the hill on Good Friday and removed after the Sunday services. But by 1950, a permanent cross was erected, according to a recent report in the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
This year, the Easter sunrise service went on as always, and according to those in attendance, 90 to 100 worshippers made the pre-dawn trek up the snow-covered trail.