That time when Nessel blasted bigotry against Catholics in Plymouth

Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks at the Planned Parenthood summit, April 16, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Attorney General Dana Nessel has drawn fire from conservative critics about her handling of the Catholic church sex abuse investigation she inherited from her GOP predecessor, Bill Schuette.

That began when Nessel held a press conference in February updating reporters on the investigation in which she said that the church should “stop self-policing” and parishioners questioned by investigators ought to “please ask to see their badge, not their rosary.”

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Nessel also has been criticized for a settlement last month stating that adoption agencies contracting with the state can’t ban same-sex couples. While St. Vincent Catholic Charities is suing Michigan on “religious liberty” grounds, Bethany Christian Services announced it will comply and allow same-sex couples to adopt.

State Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) and Detroit News Deputy Editorial page Editor Ingrid Jacques have slammed the Democratic attorney general, accusing her of “religious bigotry” and being “anti-Catholic.”

However, Nessel’s wife, Alanna Maguire, comes from a Catholic family and told the Advance that she finds the accusations “deeply offensive.” Last year, Nessel also testified before her local county commission against anti-Catholic bigotry.

The conservative condemnation hasn’t abated, even as the Michigan Advance has confirmed that Nessel has received death threats as a result. Some of the violent threats have mentioned the fact that Nessel is Jewish and gay, with spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney giving the example of someone who used the phrase, “You Jewish sodomite.”

Alanna Maguire

Maguire, head of the LGBTQ rights group Fair Michigan, has stayed silent up until now about the criticism. But she said she felt it was important to set the record straight about her own family. She said her father, Raymond Maguire, was born and raised in Northern Ireland and lived through the Troubles.

“I find the insinuations that Dana is anti-Catholic deeply offensive, given that my entire family on both sides are Catholics who have personally experienced the horrors of real anti-Catholic bias during some of the darkest times in Irish history,” Maguire said.

At a Plymouth City Commission hearing in June 2018, Nessel, who was then running for attorney general, spoke about adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.

“As a person whose gay and in a same-sex marriage, I will say this: I’ve lived in Plymouth now for over 14 years. I have never felt anything but accepted and welcome in this city,” Nessel said.

In her speech, she also stood up for Catholics against religious bigotry, saying they were protected by the same ordinance.

That was during a time when many Plymouth residents were upset about several lawn signs strewn in the yard of their neighbors, Jim and Teresa Cischke, who live on Joy Street. Teresa Cischke was the treasurer for the city of Plymouth.

As WXYZ-Detroit reported, one of the signs read, “The pope the man of sin the son of perdition.” Another sign said: “Penalty for worshipping on the 7th day=death.”

“To be clear, Cischke is Christian, but he is against Catholicism,” WXYZ reported.

Plymouth City Manager Paul Sincock told the Advance that the city’s Planning Commission is currently reviewing its sign ordinance, but the process may take several more months.

Nessel said that she felt she had to speak out against the display, noting that she represented April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the Hazel Park couple who challenged Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Jayne Rowse (L) and her partner April DeBoer, October 16, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

“Having handled the same-sex marriage equality case that took place in Detroit in 2014 and having to walk in and out of the courtroom every day, I know how hurtful it can be when you have offensive language that is written on signs that you have to walk by every day,” Nessel said at the hearing.

She said that she hoped the city will “enforce this code so that employees who work in the city of Plymouth — that it’s made clear to them that they cannot be expressing bigotry of any sort that discriminates against people whether that be against sexual orientation or gender identity or against people’s religious beliefs.”

Nessel specifically talked about the rights of Catholics in Plymouth.

Dana Nessel

“The Catholic families here in the city of Plymouth, they pay the same taxes as everybody else. They should not have to walk down Joy Street and when they’re walking their kids to the bus stop or to Fairground Park — they should not be subjected to the type of bigotry and hatred and intolerance that we see coming from the home of a person whose taxes they go to pay their salary and their benefits,” she said.

“Just as we should be including all of these many classes in terms of the protections, I implore the City Commission to actually adopt this language, but then to enforce it as it applies to all classes and to protect the rights of the Catholic families that live here in the city of Plymouth, just as we protect everybody else who lives here.”

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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