By Victor Ochieng
Bay View is a town located in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The town has for more than a century been bringing together families to share in summer activities. It all began as a camping site for Methodist families some 140 years ago, but it has since turned into a renowned vacation location for people who have the privilege of affording a second home. The town’s main streets are Fern, Moss, and Maple and they’re characterized with some century-old gingerbread cottages. The homes provide a beautiful view that allows friends to sail the boats across the Great Lakes shores.
While this sounds quite beautiful, owning a home there isn’t open to everyone. Only Christians are allowed to own homes there or even inherit one for that matter.
This is according to a bylaw that was enacted in 1947 and later strengthened in 1986. The law requires that anyone seeking to purchase or inherit a home in the neighborhood must produce dependable evidence to prove their faith, including being required to produce a duly signed letter from a Christian minister acknowledging that the person is an active member of a church.
This is what prompted a group of former and current residents of the town to file a lawsuit in which they argued that the Christian-faith rule for home ownership is unconstitutional.
Could it be that Bay View members are basically trying to protect their desire to practice their faith without any interference or could it be, as the lawsuit claims, a clear violation of our constitution, civil and religious rights of other people?
Sophie McGee, 80, owns an 1887 Bay View waterfront. She believes the laws guiding ownership in the town should be revisited to open the town up for non-Christians as well.
But that’s not the same view shared by all her friends.
Betty and her husband Glenn Stevens, a former board member of Bay View Association, believe the rules should remain as they are. Betty quickly points out that the rule is all about ownership, but everyone is welcome in the town as tenants and visitors, adding that they had a Muslim woman spend the summer with them.
“This place was founded with a purpose. People were coming to a camp meeting ground to participate in a Christian spiritual reawakening,” Stevens said.
Stevens feels that members of the town calling for a review of the rules are being disingenuous, having become members by following the same rules they now want squashed.
There is a spirited fight to have the rules altered, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to succeed. It might take time or the status quo may just remain.