Commissioners to decide on park sign with Bible verse


JENISON, Mich. (WOOD) — A sign that displayed a Bible verse at a park in Jenison has been at the center of debate for the past month after it was removed by the Ottawa County Parks Commission in December.

The sign at Hager Park showed Psalm 19:1 and had been hanging for more than 50 years after being installed by the Ottawa County Road Commission. It was taken down after the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists, an advocacy group, demanded it be taken down and threatened legal action.

“We made a request some time ago to the Ottawa County Parks Commission to have that sign removed and they did have it removed the same day,” said Brian Plescher, a spokesperson for MACRA.

Plescher told 24 Hour News 8 that two residents from Ottawa County reached out to their group and believed the sign used public property to promote a particular religion.

“Issues of church and state separation are very important to us and to a lot of members of the community as well. While there are some people that would prefer that the sign stay up, we also realize that it does violate constitutional law and needs to remain out of Hager Park,” Plescher said.

Anne Foote has been living in Ottawa County near Hager Park for 14 years. Foote and a number of other residents banned together after the sign was removed and many signed a petition to have it reinstalled.

“I thought that they were taking part of my religious freedom away. With ISIS and everything that could happen to us, we need our faith. We need to live by our faith. We need to show other nations that we are a Christian nation. We aren’t a Muslim community like I said, this is a Christian community. I know they are welcome here. I have friends that are Muslim. I have friends that are of all colors. I have no feelings against anyone,” said Foote.

Foote attended the Ottawa County Commission meeting on January 13 and voiced her opinion to the crowd.

“I just went up there, put my Bible on the podium with the constitution. I read Psalm 19:1 and then I read the First Amendment and then I told them that I’m here to save Ottawa county’s religious freedom,” said Foote.

A report from the legal council for Ottawa County discusses reinstalling the sign, but says the county would have to also allow other religious expressions at the park.

“It might be an unpopular opinion, but at the same time, majority opinion in this case doesn’t override the law and so municipality cannot display a religious sign like that without having equal access for everyone else to display something as well, said Plescher.

Foote is not opposed to the idea as long as the original sign is reinstalled.

“I think there would be enough people that would say ‘yes, let them put up other signs,’ but ours needs to be there too. It doesn’t need to be in storage,” Foote said.

The board of commissioners will decide tomorrow afternoon at 1:30 p.m. if the sign will be reinstalled.

MACRA said they plan to challenge the board if they choose to “illegally reinstall the sign.”

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Online:

Ottawa Co. Hager Park sign opinion (pdf)

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