KING, N.C. — A professor in North Carolina is defending a veterans memorial that is at the center of controversy surrounding a lawsuit filed by a church-state separation group.
Last year, 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.”
However, Joseph T. Glatthaar, the Stephenson Distinguished Professor of History at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently submitted a report in support of the monument, which will be presented to the federal court.
“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. “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.”
Glatthaar serves as the president of the Society of Military History, and was also chair for the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense Historical Advisory Committees.
“[The memorial] represents every person who has served in combat in this country, regardless of religion or racial or ethnic background,” he said.
The Liberty Institute in Texas, which is defending the memorial on behalf of The American Legion and The American Legion Post 290 in King, had requested that Glatthaar submit an expert report for the case.
As previously reported, a similar legal challenge has been heating up in Lake Elsinore, California, where a federal judge recently blocked the installation of a veterans memorial at a public stadium after an atheist organization sued over its belief that the display would violate the Constitution. Like the King memorial, the monument depicts a soldier kneeling before a capstone in the shape of a cross. A star of David is also featured on the display, as well as an American flag and a soaring eagle.
“The legislative history and the comments of the city’s elected leaders leading up to approval of the [monument] would lead a reasonable observer to believe that the monument endorses Christianity and Judaism,” wrote U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson.
“These attacks are showing no signs of slowing down, and in fact, the ACLU, FFRF and AUSCS are only becoming more emboldened in their efforts,” stated the Liberty Institute in a news release this week. “If even one of these memorials falls, where will it end?”