King, NC-- A North Carolina city finds itself again at the center of controversy over the flag its waving.
A Afghanistan war veteran said in Federal court today that the city of King is violating the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions by displaying sectarian symbols at a veterans' memorial, Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Steven Hewett, a decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Americans United asked the city to remove the Christian flag as well as a Christian statue at the memorial.
Hewett's Statement on the lawsuit
"The United States armed forces are highly diverse," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "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."
See Copy of Entire Lawsuit
Background on the Hewett vs City of King case:
In July 2010 - Hewett, who won the Combat Action Badge and Bronze Star during his service with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, first complained about King's overt promotion of Christianity. A non-Christian, he asked for the removal of the Christian flag from the city-sponsored memorial out of respect for the many non-Christian veterans who have served their country. Hewett's request was greeted with contempt and derision from city officials who reaffirmed their belief in Christianity as the only true faith. Community residents who learned of the controversy also besieged the council with demands that the Christian flag remain in place.
September 2010 - After a complaint from Americans United, the city council voted to remove the Christian flag, but the removal was temporary.
In November 2010, the city - following advice from the Religious Right legal group the Alliance Defending Freedom - created a "limited public forum" in which a flagpole at the veterans' memorial was reserved for a rotating group of pre-approved flags. The city conducted a lottery and selected 52 flag applications, one for each week of the year.
The result of the lottery was that the Christian flag flew at the memorial for 47 weeks in 2011 and will have flown for 47 weeks by the end of 2012. Americans United says in its lawsuit that this so-called public forum is a sham.
Hewett is also asking for the removal of a statue erected at the memorial that depicts a soldier kneeling before a cross.
In a statement today, Hewett said, "I proudly served alongside a diverse group of soldiers with a variety of different religious beliefs. The City of King should be honoring everyone who served our country, not using their service as an excuse to promote a single religion."
Along with Lipper, the Hewett v. City of King, NC case is being litigated by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan with assistance from AU Madison Fellow Benjamin N. Hazelwood. John M. Moye of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP is serving as local counsel.
Americans United For Separation of Church & State