KING, N.C. — Officials in a North Carolina city have agreed to remove a veterans monument that includes a depiction of a praying soldier out of concerns over costs of continuing its legal fight over the matter.
As previously reported, in 2012, the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS), led by Barry Lynn, an attorney and licensed “minister” in the United Church of Christ, filed suit against the City of King on behalf of local Afghanistan war veteran Steven Hewitt. Lynn says that the memorial, which depicts a soldier kneeling before a cross, is unconstitutional. The site also features the Christian flag.
“The United States Armed Forces are highly diverse,” he told the Stokes News. “To have a veterans’ memorial that only honors soldiers of one religion is not only a violation of the First Amendment, but also an insult to the memory of non-Christians who served their country.”
“I proudly served alongside a diverse group of soldiers with a variety of different religious beliefs,” Hewitt added in a news release last November. “The City of King should be honoring everyone who served our country, not using their service as an excuse to promote a single religion.”
But there were those who supported the display, including Joseph T. Glatthaar, the Stephenson Distinguished Professor of History at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also serves as the president of the Society of Military History, and was chair for the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense Historical Advisory Committees.
“I consider the artwork to be a tasteful display that honors veterans and am convinced that it suggests nothing more than a soldier paying tribute to a recently fallen comrade,” he wrote in a report submitted to the court. “Those who argue that this is an attempt to promote religion or one faith over another have simply taken the artist’s rendition out of its historical context and assumed things that the artist has not depicted.”
The city continued the fight for the past two years, but recently considered reaching a settlement in the matter. This past Tuesday, city council voted 3-2 to agree to the settlement, stating that costs to continue the fight would be too great. Council itself had a tie vote, 2-2, so Mayor Jack Warren cast the tie-breaker, voting in favor of the settlement.
“The decision to settle this case has been very difficult for the King city council,” a statement from the city outlines. “It was not reached until it became clear that the costs of proceeding to trial would greatly exceed the city’s insurance policy limits.”
As part of the settlement, the city will not only remove the veterans monument, but officials also will not fly the Christian flag in the city limits.
According to the Winston-Salem Journal, some among the approximate 60 residents who attended the meeting expressed disappointment in the outcome, asking, “What else are you going to give up next?”
Council member Wesley Carter and his colleague Brian Carico were the two who voted against the settlement.
“I do feel that this city has been sabotaged and has been bullied by folks that don’t believe what this community stands for,” Carter said.
The city has spent $50,000 on the legal battle to date.
Photo: Christian Fighter Pilot