Steven Hewett, a veteran who served in Afghanistan, sued King, North Carolina, in 2012 because of a Christian flag and Christian statue that featured a soldier kneeling before a cross at a city-sponsored memorial to veterans.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State represented Hewett in the lawsuit.
“The United States armed forces are highly diverse,” Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said in a press release at the time. “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," stated Hewett. "The City of King should be honoring everyone who served our country, not using their service as an excuse to promote a single religion.”
Filmmaker Scott Burdick made a documentary (video below) of the controversy entitled "In God We Trust?" which showed the strong Christian beliefs of the townspeople who wanted the flag and statue to remain.
After almost three years of legal wrangling, the King City Council recently voted 3-2 to approve a settlement with Hewett and Americans United to repeal its "lottery flag" system that resulted in a Christian flag being flown most of the time at the King Veterans Memorial.
The settlement also included removing the kneeling soldier from the memorial site, which happened on Jan. 6.
The city will also pay $500,000 to Americans United to cover its legal costs for the case.
“[The city's insurance company] sent us a letter that said if you got to trial you will no longer have insurance if you lose,” King Mayor Jack Warren told TheStokesNews.com.
“We were ready to take it to the next step," added Warren. "They said it would be another $250,000 to $500,000 and at the first round if the city lost we would be liable to the tune of $2 million. We do not have $2 million to give away, not with our lawyers telling us you are not going to win.”
City council member Brian Carico countered:
"The decision I looked at that overwhelms everything else involved is that before I am a council member, before I am a husband, before I am a father or a brother or a son, is that I am a Christian. Every word and deed I do is supposed to be in the name of Jesus Christ and I am sorry if certain people disagree with that, but I don’t disrespect you. I do ask that you respect that that is how I have to make a decision.
"I can’t vote to remove anything from that memorial because the intent is not there for anyone to be offended. Every veteran that memorial honors took an oath of God and country and they knew what God they were speaking of. It is a historical marker of what we were founded on. Whether you agree with it or don’t, historically Judeo-Christian values is what we were founded on. Constitutionally, we did nothing wrong.”
City council member Wesley Carter also supported the Christian monument:
"I feel this city has been sabotaged and bullied by folks who don’t believe in what this community stands for. I feel like we have been pressured by insurance companies and attorneys who have never been to King. They don’t know what we are about and what this community stands for. I feel like we live in a town that is inclusive. This city has never tried to keep out other people’s religious beliefs. We have never tried to do that but yet, we have been accused of showing favoritism.”
Sources: Americans United for Separation of Church and State, TheStokesNews.com
Image Credit: Documentary "In God We Trust?" Screenshot, Wikimedia Commons