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Activists that have been trying to remove the Confederate statue in Allendale, are now suing the Township for Free Speech violations

December 7, 2021

It has been roughly 18 months that activists have been organizing to remove the Confederate statue in Allendale. The protest began in the summer of 2020, about the same time that the country erupted over the price murder of George Floyd.

Allendale Township has fought the activists on the removal of the Confederate statue from the very beginning, often arguing that to remove the statue is to remove history. Other players, such as Ryan Kelley, the co-founder of the American Patriot Council, also joined the fight to defend the Confederate statue, while at the same time calling the COVID pandemic a hoax and opposing any kind of government measures to protect the public from the spread of the virus.

In October of 2020, Kelley and his minions organized a rally in the park where the Confederate statue is located in Allendale. A counter-protest was organized, which drew a great deal of media attention, although often failing the report on more critical aspects of the protests.

In March, we reported on the four activists who were charged by Allendale Township of defacing the Confederate statue, although the charges were essentially bogus.

In May of 2021, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists had called for a boycott of an annual concert series held in Allendale. That concert series was cancelled.

Now, four civil rights advocates have filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Michigan against Allendale Township for censoring speech promoting racial justice. The lawsuit asserts that Allendale, located in Ottawa County, Michigan, unlawfully violated their free speech rights by allowing people to pay for messages on engraved bricks in a local park promoting a wide range of individual interests, but rejected bricks with messages supporting racial equality.

According to the Media Release from the four plaintiffs:

In an August 2019 meeting, the Township Board reinstated a decades-old fundraising program that allowed community members to purchase bricks to be engraved with messages of their choice and placed in the township’s Garden of Honor surrounding statues commemorating various wars. The Board did not limit the type of message applicants could have inscribed on a brick. Bricks in the park today have messages such as, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE,” “ALLENDALE ANIMAL HOSPITAL,” and “ALLENDALE CLASS OF 2003.”

One of the statues in the Garden of Honor is of a Confederate soldier and a Union soldier with a small, enslaved Black child between their legs. Following the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide racial justice protests in the summer of 2020, many Americans began calling for the removal of Confederate statues. Numerous community members, including plaintiffs, and organizations, such as Grand Valley State University, have urged Allendale to remove the Confederate soldier—thought to be one of the only Confederate statues north of the Mason-Dixon line—from the Garden of Honor. Thus far, the Allendale Township Board has refused to remove or replace the statue of the Confederate soldier.    

Plaintiff Tony Miller is a Black veteran of the United States Navy. In March, Miller submitted brick applications to honor the service of Black and Indigenous Americans in the U.S. armed forces and to promote racial justice. Miller’s submissions included either the phrase “Black Lives Matter” or “Indigenous Lives Matter” followed by the name of a veteran. Because the brick display faces the Confederate statue, Miller hoped his bricks would make a particularly powerful statement.

In response to the brick applications of Mr. Miller and a few other civil rights advocates, the Allendale Board decided to change the rules for inscribed bricks and to allow only messages that stated a veteran’s name, branch of service, dates of service, war or conflict, location of service, rank, unit, medals and awards, and/or POW or MIA status. Even though Mr. Miller and the other plaintiffs submitted brick applications before the Board adopted the new policy, the Township Clerk rejected all of their applications because they did not meet the brick program’s new content requirements. 

Mr. Miller stated, “I just want to make Allendale a more welcoming home for families like mine. It’s not fair for the Board to change the rules just to prevent us from promoting racial justice.”

The lawsuit asks the federal court to order Allendale to install the bricks with racial justice messages that were applied for before the rule change.

To view the legal complaint, click here. 

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