Little Frankenmuth, a town settled in Michigan by German farmers in the 1800s, is perhaps best known for the delicious chicken dinners served at two family-owned restaurants – Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn – as well as the Bronner’s store that is open year-round selling Christmas ornaments and cheer. The little town where ‘Gemuchlekeit’ – German for warm fellowship – is offered freely is now on the front line of the ongoing American kulturkampf.
The city government has formally rejected a demand by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) to remove a 55 foot steel cross from land owned by the municipality. Writing in July 2012, the AU said that the cross amounts to an unlawful endorsement and promotion of Christianity. The group said that the cross should be removed, or the town will face “a significant risk of litigation.”
The Thomas More Law Center, a law firm based in nearby Ann Arbor, was asked by the town to present a common defense against the secularists. Writing on October 5, Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, said on behalf of the city, “The cross was raised up by a grateful community. And this community will fight to keep it." He added, "The purpose of the cross was not to promote, endorse or coerce anyone to convert to Christianity."
According to a news release, the Frankenmuth was erected as a part of the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations in 1976. Built with private funds, it was erected to commemorate American freedom and the sacrifices made by Frankenmuth’s original 15 settlers and their families who arrived in 1845. The German immigrants left their homes in the province of Middle Franconia, Bavaria to establish a religious community for the conversion of the Chippewa Indians who lived in the area. They also built successful farms as time wore on.
Writing to Benjamin N. Hazelwood of the AU, Thompson cited law and judicial precedent for keeping the cross in place. Thompson wrote, “In the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court's denial of certiorari in Mount Soledad Memorial Association v. Steve Trunk, 13 S. Ct. 2535, Justice (Samuel) Alito observed, ‘The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm .... The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgement of religion's role in society.’"
Thompson added, “In conclusion, a reasonable observer, familiar with the unique history of our Nation and of the City of Frankenmuth, would understand that the Bicentennial Cross located on public land does not endorse the religion of Christianity. Rather, it is a lasting memorial of America's religious heritage which our Founding Fathers proclaimed was the foundation of our freedoms and our Nation.” He concluded by writing, “This Cross was raised by a grateful community. And this community will fight to keep it.” See Thompson's letter here.
Frankenmuth draws thousands of tourists every year, drawn to its welcoming family atmosphere and recreation.