By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
November 9, 2012
KING — Nearly two years after King officials adopted a new policy to quell a controversy over a Christian flag at its Central Park Veterans Memorial, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a federal lawsuit against the Stokes County town.
Representing Steven Hewett, the veteran whose complaint led to a huge flag-support rally in 2010, Americans United claims that the city is “exploiting the memory of deceased veterans in order to promote a single faith.” The organization insists the flag, which had been featured among 10 others, is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
But Joseph Infranco, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, has said the town’s creation of a limited public forum that allows residents to choose among some 41 different symbols to display, is supported by sound law and the best way to let citizens honor their heroes “free of unwarranted censorship.”
ADF crafted the policy in the face of earlier threats from both AU and the American Civil Liberties Union. Under its requirements, King residents may submit applications to the city requesting that a specific flag be flown to honor a veteran in their family. They can choose among more than three dozen symbols for flags that have been approved by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, including everything from the Bahai nine-pointed star to the American Atheists atom. The city then uses a lottery system to randomly select 52 applications and flies the chosen symbol of each one for one week of the year.
Because the lottery resulted in the Christian flag flying 47 of 52 weeks in 2011 and another 47 weeks this year, AU claims it is a “sham.” But the lawsuit shows Hewett, a decorated Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, filed five applications and gained control of the flagpole for four weeks last year, four weeks during which he didn’t fly any flags. Further, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that Hewett will have his say over the flag again next week when, according to city documents, he’s planning to fly the Buddhist flag.
Media reports show that 110 applications were submitted in 2011 and all but four designated the Christian flag as their symbol of choice.
“The far left agenda of organizations like the ACLU should not squelch the right of citizens to honor U.S. veterans in the way that they see fit,” Infranco said when the policy was adopted, calling the attack on religious symbols and expression in the public square a “slap in the face to local veterans.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said he found it hard to understand how Hewett could take issue with the two-year-old policy that has already awarded him at least five weeks of control over the flagpole.
“The suit reports that more than 70 applications were turned in when the policy was first adopted, so obviously a number of applicants didn’t get a week at all,” Dr. Creech said. “Furthermore, the entire intent of the limited public forum is to let the people choose which symbol to fly. The Town can’t help it if most folks want the Christian flag.”
King officials have discussed the suit with their attorney. Filed Nov. 2 in U.S. District Court, the legal action also includes complaints about a silhouette of a soldier praying that was installed in the park in 2010 by the local American Legion Post, and about King’s “prayer-filled” services commemorating Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day and September 11.
Meanwhile, a King Veteran’s Memorial Support Group is forming to help defend the right to fly the flag.
“We saw what this community was made of in the fall of 2010 when more than 5,000 people showed up at the park to rally for the flag,” Dr. Creech said. “Hundreds of Christian flags blanketed the town then as residents and business owners showed their solidarity.”
“If those Christian flags have been packed away since then, now’s the time to get them out and on display,” he added.