KING, N.C. — A number of residents from the city of King, North Carolina came together on Sunday to peacefully protest the removal of a veterans memorial in the city and to stand in solidarity in support of the display.
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 in November 2013. “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. Last 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 city had stated that the fight would cost taxpayers an estimated $2 million dollars.
But following the city’s decision, and the prompt removal of the monument and a Christian flag that had been raised, a number of residents gathered in Central Park on Sunday and placed a cross in the ground, kneeling before it as a re-creation of the former monument. Some sang songs or held flags.
“The separation of church and state was written to protect the church from the state, and it’s just the opposite now,” one attendee lamented to local television station WFMY.
“[But] it’s only the first quarter. Communists, liberals one, veterans zero,” he continued. “But it’s only the first quarter. We’ve got three more to go. We’ve got the ball. And no more defense. We’re going on the offense.”
Photo: WFMY screenshot