Church, Edsel Ford duel over lawn signs — with civility – The Detroit News

Posted: Sunday, October 12, 2014

On the expansive, manicured Lake Shore Road lawn that belongs to Edsel and Cynthia Ford, a giant banner proclaimed: Welcome Holiday Mart.

Residents of the Grosse Pointes know the Holiday Mart as a long-standing tradition and fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan. But the banner — almost 20 feet long, visible from the street — delivered a more subtle message than the giant sign suggested.

It was intended as a pointed rebuttal to the crosses and signs displayed last week at a nearby church in a “respect for life” display. And it created a quiet and civil public meditation on freedom of expression.

“We wanted it to be nonthreatening and friendly,” says Cynthia Ford, who is married to the great-grandson of the Ford Motor Co. founder. Holiday Mart is a 56-year October tradition that will benefit Planned Parenthood’s prenatal care and cancer prevention programs. It’s set for Thursday, Friday and next Saturday at the Grosse Pointe Farms War Memorial.

A few years ago, St. Paul Catholic Church began its own October tradition: displaying an array of white crosses with two large signs, one listing the number of abortions since Roe v. Wade, the other with a pregnancy hotline.

To the church, the display was, in the words of St. Paul’s Monsignor Patrick Halfpenny, “a way to raise awareness for a greater respect for life.”

To the Fords — and surely to others in the community who are in favor of contraceptive and reproductive choices that include abortion — the church display was aggressive and a powerful statement. But why was the response presumed to be silence from the other side?

Cynthia Ford says she, too, respects life but the church placards offend her. “I decided if the church can do this, I would like to give my side of the story, too … we feel we have an equal right to speak our minds.”

This year, when the display went up again, the Fords acted: They commissioned the sign and displayed it on the most publicly visible part of their lawn, at the foot of their flagpole.

The October date was ordained by the Catholic bishops a few years ago, Halfpenny says, and is unrelated to Holiday Mart. The timing, he said, is coincidental.

The Fords’ big sign didn’t say anything about contraception, choice or even health: Its message was oblique, lacking any references to the work that Planned Parenthood does. But its size and exuberance were unmistakable.

“There’s a population of women who are underserved,” she said. “If these women don’t have a voice, then it’s up to those of us who have that opportunity to speak up.”

Although nobody complained directly to the Fords about their banner, they were not surprised to receive an email from the city warning that the sign was not in compliance with local ordinances.

“We did ask whether the church would be asked about their sign,” she says.

The church was, indeed, asked the next day. Both displays came down, although Halfpenny says the display never lasts more than a week.

“By the time we received word from the city, it was already down,” said Halfpenny, who said the display goes to other churches.

“We want to be good neighbors, even to those who disagree with us.”

On Friday afternoon, the Fords erected a three-foot sign that complies with the city’s ordinance.

Everyone agreed that civility and city ordinances had prevailed.

“It’s heartening to us when prominent people in a community will stand up for women and health care for them,” says Lori Lamerand, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan. “Every time that happens, other people find the courage to do the same thing.”

Says Cynthia Ford: “This is something that anyone could have done. I hope it will encourage others to think about what they believe and to use their own voice.”

lberman@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2032

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