Bay View eliminates 'Christian persuasion' bylaw

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News
A Bay Vie cottage overlooks Little Traverse Bay Thursday, June 14, 2018  in the enclave of Bay View near Petoskey, Michigan. The 143-year-old Methodist assembly camp features 440 cottages, two hotels, a post office, beach and swim area and a sail house.

A summer resort in northern Michigan has voted to overturn a bylaw that prohibited non-Christians from buying a home there.

The residents of the Bay View Association northeast of Petoskey voted Saturday, with 69 percent opposing the ban.

But opponents of the ban said the vote doesn't go far enough. They pledged to continue a federal lawsuit filed against the resort in 2017.

PreviouslyBay View resort's ban on non-Christians faces legal challenge

"It is a step forward," said Don Duquette, a longtime member of Bay View who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "It doesn't take us the whole way but it sure does help."

Duquette and other members oppose a requirement that five of the nine members of the resort's ruling board must be Methodist.

They're also worried the board could interpret the new rules in a way that could restrict membership. They also fret the ban could be reinstituted in the future.

The solution, they believe, would be a consent decree where the board agrees to a court order that it isn't exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination.

"We've taken the first baby steps," said Sarah Prescott, a Northville attorney who is representing opponents of the ban.

"We've opened the door a crack," she said. "But there's more work that needs to be done here."

The Bay View Association could not be reached for comment.

Still, other opponents of the ban were happy with the vote.

The bylaw amendment voted on Saturday overturned a requirement that homeowners must be "of Christian persuasions."

It also removed a rule that prospective members must submit a letter of recommendation from their church leader.

The proposed amendment sought to allay the fears of members who worried the ban's removal would lessen the resort's connection to its Methodist roots.

As a result, the amendment said prospective members must agree to respect the principles of the United Methodist Church. 

New members also should support the resort's mission, which the amendment defined as being an institution in which Christian values and traditions are central.

Some members were pleased with Saturday's vote.

Jeremy Sheaffer, whose family has lived in Bay View since 1917, hadn't been able to bequeath his cottage to his wife or children because they're Jewish.

Now he can.

""I'm thrilled, absolutely delighted," he said. "This is no small thing."

Indeed, opponents of the ban had tried to overturn it three times in seven years but failed.

During a 2013 vote, 52 percent of the 702 voters supported removing the ban. But changes to the bylaws require a two-thirds vote of approval.

Sheaffer often told a friend it was impossible to get two-thirds of the resort to agree on anything, including the fact that Little Traverse Bay is blue.

After the vote, one of Sheaffer's friends told him that the bay is blue.

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell