For nearly 70 years a tall white cross stood on a hill in the Waterloo Recreation Area, the third largest state park in Michigan.
People used it as a backdrop for photos. Local churches hosted outdoor Easter services under it.
It went up in 1950. It came down this week after the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists asked the state Department of Natural Resources to remove it.
Its removal follows months of controversy about whether it should stay or go. Critics argued that a religious symbol standing on public land erased the separation between church and state, and was an unconstitutional government endorsement of a religion.
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"Some church/state separation cases can get complicated, but this one is about as simple as it gets," atheist activist Hemant Mehta wrote for Patheos, a nondenominational media website. "It only had a religious purpose. And it needed to come down."
MACRA, the civil rights group, questioned the state in March about why the cross was there. According to the Detroit Free Press the group received a complaint from a longtime resident of the area who hiked the park's trail and sledded down the hill where the cross stood.
According to WLNS in Lansing, the Michigan DNR decided the cross's placement did break state law.
On Monday, the Grass Lake Ministerial Association, which owns the cross, agreed to take it down after meeting with DNR officials. The group said in a statement they want to follow the law, WLNS reported.
“Basically, it came down to, there was a cross that we didn’t own that was on land that we did own,” John Pepin, the department’s deputy public information officer, told the Lansing State Journal.
"We worked with the people that owned the cross and they voted to support removing it to a permanent location.”
Pepin told MLive.com that every year since 1938, churches with the ministerial association have hosted Easter services at the recreation area. The group set up a temporary cross every year until installing the permanent one in 1950. That cross was stolen in 1968, Pepin said, but was later replaced and moved to a new location in the recreation area in 1992.
Its removal shocked Grassroots Jackson, a volunteer group of advocates that started an online petition in March called “Save the Jackson Cross" that gathered more than 2,500 signatures, according to the State Journal.
Early Tuesday morning the grassroots group posted a photo on its Facebook page of the spot where the cross stood, now bare. "The SACKRIDER CROSS has been REMOVED," the post said.
"We can confirm the cross is down. We are disappointed and BLINDSIDED by this, and will keep you posted as we learn more."
Carl Rice, a member of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, told WLNS he is talking to other local officials about bringing the cross back.
“This is the public's land, that land is owned by taxpayers,” said Rice. “It’s a comfort, it makes them feel good. For some people, it inspires them as they go about their walks. It's not a threat. It's not a harm.”
Walking through the park on Wednesday morning, friends Robin Bosilovick and Moranda Moody told the TV station they already miss the cross.
“It’s kind of a kick in the face to a lot of us in the community, because it's tradition, it's memories,” Moody said.
Added Bosilovick: "I guess we should replace it with a bigger cross."