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Federal judge rules King Christian flag suit can go to trial

Bruce Chapman/Journal

Bruce Chapman/Journal

Two claims against King in an Afghanistan war veteran’s lawsuit over the Christian Flag at the city’s Veteran’s Memorial can go to trial, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

In his 110-page ruling, Judge James A. Beaty Jr. of U.S. District Court also barred King from promoting Christianity at ceremonies at the memorial. Beaty wrote that the city’s past involvement in those events violated First Amendment’s establishment clause.

That clause prohibits government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another.

Steven Hewett, an Army veteran, sued the city in November 2012 in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, alleging that King officials violated his constitutional rights by allowing the Christian flag to fly at the Veteran’s Memorial in Central Park.

Hewett wants a federal judge to issue a permanent injunction to bar King from allowing the display of the Christian flag at the memorial and from displaying a statue of a soldier kneeling at a cross.

Beaty said those issues can proceed to a trial.

Hewett declined to comment on Beaty’s ruling.

Gregory Lipper of Washington, D.C., one of Hewett’s attorneys, said that no trial date has been set for the case.

“The city has and continues to promote Christianity at events at the memorial,” Lipper said. “We feel pretty good going into trial.”

City Manager Homer Dearmin said that King officials will review Beaty’s ruling with their attorneys.

“We anticipated that this issue would go to trial,” Dearmin said. “We will work with our legal counsel to determine the best steps for the city.”

Hiriam Sasser of Plano, Texas is an attorney for the American Legion and American Legion Post 290 of King, who are also defendants in the lawsuit. Sasser said that Beaty’s opinion laid out a framework for a trial court to consider.

The Veteran’s Memorial was built in 2004 for about $300,000. The Christian flag was among the six military service flags, the U.S. flag, the North Carolina flag and the city flag being flown at the memorial.

In 2008, the American Legion Post put up a smaller monument showing a soldier kneeling next to a grave.

In September 2010, the King City Council voted 3-1 to remove the Christian flag from the memorial on the advice of its attorney, who said that the flag violated the First Amendment.

More than 5,000 people rallied in King in October 2010, urging the city council to return the flag to the memorial and criticizing city officials for taking it down. The council approved a policy in December 2010 intended as a compromise.

Under the policy, the city holds a lottery each year in December to select 52 veterans to be honored, one for each week of the year.

The person who sponsors the veteran can say which flag, if any, should fly that week. King residents can submit applications for the lottery through mid-December every year.

Since the policy was enacted, the Christian flag has flown at the site the majority of the time.

19 comments

  • YOTA14

    Flying a flag is not promoting religion, it’s honoring tradition. How can that possibly violate someone’s rights? Why are atheists/humanists so ultra-sensitive? At least respect the fact that our constitutional rights are a byproduct of Judeo-Christian values.

    • Triple Aught

      Stop upkeep and maintenance on the park at once.
      Procure land and build a new park from local Church and Community donations.
      Place a sign out front;
      No Militant Atheists Wanted, Tolerated, Nor Allowed,
      As this New Park is made in Honor of All the Crosses at Arlington and Normandy…
      Then let Mr. Hewett take over the upkeep and maintenance at Central Park himself…
      Oh. and tell that Federal Gooberment Judge to Kiss It, and Keep Out…

      • Triple Aught

        In order to understand the Liberal mind, you have to realize that any US Constitutional Amendment is only Valid if it suits the Liberal in question. Voting and Majority Rule have been tossed aside by these so called, “Your Honors”. The Local People’s Wishes, do not matter anymore.
        All it takes now, is only one, “Such Liberal”, to muck things up for All Of The Other Citizens.

      • Bart

        Majority rule has not been tossed aside because it never existed in the first place. The United States of America is not a democracy (majority rule), it is a representative republic. You might want to read the Federalist, which is a set of letters written by some of the Founding Fathers to convince the public that the new constitution would be a good thing. In those letters they describe why they did not like democracy and did not design our government as one. Their feeliings about democracy are why the original use of “Democrat” was as an insult (some of us like to still use it that way :-) ).

        I know a bunch of atheists and I wouldn’t call any of them militant. Now me, the Deist that spent a bunch of time in the military and owns several firearms, maybe.

        I think it would be better if we got rid of all the goober bully Christians that want to force their religion on everyone else. Sure would be a more peaceful world.

      • lovethetruth

        If the land was purchased and maintained with church funds, instead of government funds, this wouldn’t be an issue, obviously.

    • FaithC

      If this monument is to honor all vets then if you are going to fly the flag for one religion you must fly a flag to represent them all. If you are not going to represent all religions, then you should not pick and choose which ones are to be there. Not all vets are Christion, what about the Jewish ones? Or any other religion? Are they to be honored less? Just because someone is not Christian does not mean they are atheists.
      If this is a memorial to honor “ONLY” Christian vets that would be different.

    • Bart

      Flying a flag that represents a religion promotes that religion. There is no tradition of flying the Christian flag anywhere other than at churches, and even then usually only inside the church.

      Our constitutional rights, system of governement, and justice system are more derived from the Greeks than anyone else. I challange anyone to intelligently state how Judeo-Christian values are different from anyone else’s values.

      If you do not understand how flying a Christian flag at a public park violates the First Amendment, there are numerous schools in the area. You could use the education.

      • dewey

        though you are true there Bart, but telling that to the “doG did it” crowd…you’d have an easier time convincing a carrot

        the loss of “Judeo-Christstain” is one of the things they just won’t give up, no matter how much evidence you present

      • Steve Thompson

        Amendment I
        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

        If you would be so kind Bart. Please explain how this prevents the City of King from flying the Christian Flag at the requests of the Citizens of King?

    • lovethetruth

      What makes you think he’s an athiest? Maybe he’s Jewish, etc. and is offended that he fought for a country that doesn’t appreciate/recognize his beliefs.

  • Bart

    Steve Thompson:

    Amendment I
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    Flying the Christian flag at that park would be the city of King respecting an establishment of religion – Christianity. Doesn’t matter who requests it.

    Now the difference between King and Congress is the 14th Amendment, specifically Section 1.

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge teh privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    The 14th Amendment has been ruled to have made the individual rights listed in the Bill of Rights applicable to the states. It is really a no-brainer. If our rights were not protected explicitly by the Constitution then any governmental body in the United States could deny them in any way they desired. Without the 14th Amendment backing up the 1st Amendment, the city of King could say that the religion of our city is Hindu and there would be nothing you could do about it.

  • Tony Dowdy

    Why this ignorant BS has to enter my thought once more is offensive in itself. Why is it that Christians always have to have their way? It can’t just be equal can it? Religion: holding us back since 223,000 BCE.

  • Jason

    The city of King is granting the honor to a veteran every week to have his/her choice of what flag flies for that week. Thank the veteran who asked for that flag, and for that matter thank the veteran no matter which flag is flown. This guy is mad because his flag isn’t flown as much, then maybe he should pray to whoever he chooses to pray to that his name will be drawn in the lottery more so his flag can fly. If I read this article right, the city of King no longer chooses the flag, whatever flag is flown is chosen by a vet and is a very patriotic gesture by the City of King to do so.

    • Bart

      Close but not quite, Jason. The city instituted the lottery system because of Steve Hewett’s actions. Steve has entered the lottery and I know his name has been drawn multiple times and he has had flags other than the Christian flag flown for his weeks.

      The lottery is only a temporary fix and the city is currently under a temporary injunction. Even though this has been going on for years, there is more time to go by before a permanent solution is reached.

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