By Michael Gryboski
July 9, 2014
A war memorial in a North Carolina city that includes a Christian flag and the image of a soldier kneeling before a cross has been brought to court.
U.S. District Judge James A. Beaty ruled Tuesday that there is sufficient evidence for a lawsuit against the city of King’s war memorial to go to trial.
“As the court has determined that there are genuine disputes of material fact relating to what the cross statue purports to depict, and as a result, a dispute remains regarding the history of the Latin cross that is part of the cross statue, the court finds that those issues should proceed to trial,” wrote Beaty.
In 2010, under pressure from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union, the city council voted to remove the Christian flag from the memorial.
The decision sparked local outrage and prompted city council to adopt a new flag policy, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
“Under the policy, the city holds a lottery each year in December to select 52 veterans to be honored, one for each week of the year,” reported John Hinton of the Journal.
The plaintiff, Steven Hewett, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is being represented by the Washington, D.C.-based organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel with Americans United, told The Christian Post that Hewett “is concerned that the King’s veterans’ memorial honors only Christian veterans.”
“The soldiers who have fought and given their lives for our country have come from a variety of religious traditions; some have not practiced any religion at all,” said Lipper.
“Yet the veterans memorial features a Christian flag and a monument of a soldier kneeling before a cross, and the city’s memorial ceremonies have featured Christian prayers. The city is thus sending the message that only Christian soldiers are worth remembering.”
King’s original war memorial was erected in 2004 by the city. In 2008, an addition was made showing a soldier kneeling next to a grave that had a Latin cross.
“The person who sponsors the veteran can say which flag, if any, should fly that week. King residents can submit applications for the lottery through mid-December every year. Since the policy was enacted, the Christian flag has flown at the site the majority of the time.”
In 2012, Hewett filed suit against King over the Christian flag and the kneeling soldier statue, requesting a permanent injunction that removes the items from the memorial.
Also named in the lawsuit was the American Legion, whose Post 290 had an officer that designed and made the statute that was added later.
Mark Seavey, spokesman for the American Legion, told CP that the American Legion does not have a position on the nearby Christian flag, but has involved itself in the case regarding the cross statue.
“The American Legion has joined as a defendant-intervenor in so far as the portion of the case which deals with the soldier kneeling before the cross. We have taken no position regarding the flag located nearby,” said Seavey. “The American Legion has taken no position with regard to the flag located nearby. However, in regard to the soldier portion, we do not believe that the inclusion of the cross violates the Constitution.”
Seavey also provided quotes from the legal brief the American Legion filed, which stated that the “kneeling soldier statue depicts a symbolic historical scene of a soldier honoring a fallen comrade before a cruciform gravestone identical to the tens of thousands of such gravestones erected to mark the location of our country’s hallowed war dead.”
“To any reasonable observer, the kneeling soldier statue depicts the sacrifice of all members of the U.S. Armed Forces and does not impermissibly endorse religion,” continued the brief.
“That this statue reflects a historical reality – that many of the soldiers who died overseas during those conflicts were buried under crosses – does not make it unconstitutional.”