HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WZZM) -- Weeks after a controversy over a sign with biblical language in a Jenison park, a neighboring community added religious language to a city memo. Starting this year, an updated version of Hudsonville's city newsletter includes the phrase 'strive to serve God,' which is already part of the city's mission statement.
WZZM 13 spoke to city leaders about whether the changes were tied to other religious controversies in Ottawa County.
One word, perhaps even one letter, changes the meaning of Hudsonville's mission statement.
"Probably 'striving to serve good' would satisfy many people, but isn't God good," says John O'Brien, Mayor pro tem and council member for the city of Hudsonville.
The words 'strive to serve God' came to light in an updated version of the city's memo to staff and media.
"We are just saying we are a religious community, most of us," says O'Brien.
City manager Patrick Waterman declined a request from WZZM 13 for an on-camera interview, but off-camera he said that adding the mission statement to the city memo was a matter of reformatting.
Just weeks before the change was made, a controversial biblical sign was removed from a park in neighboring Jenison.
"There is no linkage between the two," says O'Brien. "We're not displaying the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quran any type of particular religious expression."
WZZM 13 asked a legal expert if the religious phrase in Hudsonville's city memo could open the city up to a lawsuit.
"Sooner or later, I would expect someone to challenge this," says Devin Schindler, a professor at Cooley Law School.
Schindler says the courts do allow government to use the word God, as in the Pledge of Allegiance. However, he says it's not a constitutional violation only if the context no longer has religious significance.
"Are they communicating to folks that aren't God-centered, 'Hey, this is a religious community and, essentially, you're not welcome,' or will the courts say, 'No, this is something they've always historically done, and it's lost its religious significance.'"
O'Brien says the city's mission statement, which has been around for two decades, sparked a similar controversy in 2008.
"We have much more important things going on," says O'Brien.
He hopes the public can move beyond the issue once again.
WZZM 13 contacted Mitch Kale who has led an effort against some of the religious symbols on public property. He says his group, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists, is planning to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Hudsonville and then decide what the next step will be.