At a meeting held on May 20, 2008, the City Council of Frankenmuth, Michigan, dubbed by its Chamber of Commerce as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” unanimously voted to retain the Thomas More Law Center to defend its unique historical and cultural heritage symbolized by a small cross in the city shield and a cross erected in a city park. Both the shield and the park have been in existence for more than 30 years. Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, commented, “The council’s unanimous vote to retain the Thomas More Law Center in the face of a previous attempt to remove the small cross from its city shield and now the more recent focus on the cross in Cross Park by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reflects a deep commitment on the part of the council to defend these symbols of the city’s unique history and culture.”
The German word “Franken” represents the Province of Franconia in the Kingdom of Bavaria, and the German word “Muth” means courage, thus the city name Frankenmuth means “courage of the Franconians.”
Frankenmuth’s shield represents its German cultural heritage as well as its American patriotism. Frankenmuth was founded by Lutheran missionary farmers who traveled from Bavaria in 1845 to settle a unique German community in the United States. This history of Frankenmuth is represented on the city shield by a swath of grain and a “Luther Rose,” which has a cross in the center. Other parts of the shield depict the Bavarian region from which the missionaries came. Even today, Frankenmuth maintains a close relationship with the people of Bavaria through a well established Sister City Program. Finally, the shield contains an eagle and the colors red, white, and blue, depicting Frankenmuth’s proud American heritage.
In addition to a recent complaint about the shield, the city has received threats of legal action on account of a city park that was created in 1976. The park, known as “Cross Park,” was one of three projects the city created to celebrate the 1976 Bicentennial of the United States. The sign greeting visitors to the park reads, “A Grateful Community.” There is also a log cabin located in the park and a tall cross, both representing the history of the founding of this “grateful” community.
Continued Thompson, “These symbols serve to link and promote Frankenmuth’s unique origins and history ─ all secular purposes. The sign at Cross Park expresses gratitude from a people with a missionary history. We need not purge all historical references to religion merely to satisfy militant atheists.”