Controversy has erupted in the town of King, N.C., over display of a Christian flag at a veterans memorial in a public park.
The flag was removed from the community’s Central Park after Americans United and the North Carolina ACLU wrote to city officials, pointing out that the display is unconstitutional. The two groups acted after receiving a complaint from a local military veteran.
The man, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, objected to the obvious governmental favoritism toward one faith.
He told a local television station, “People are free to worship, fly their flag, pray, have their own religious beliefs or not to believe in any faith at all, upon their own property or place of worship. However, our city, county, state and federal governments do not have the right to impose any form of religious belief upon its population.”
In a letter to Mayor Jack Warren and the members of the city council, AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, observed, “Here the Christian flag is meant to communicate a religious message. The only symbol on the flag is a Latin cross ‘the unmistakable symbol of Christianity.’”
AU’s letter also notes that when the veteran called city offices to complain, City Manager John Cater told him he would have to answer to Jesus Christ if the flag was removed. AU advised the city to tell Cater to stop proselytizing while on the job.
Some members of the community of about 6,000 reacted badly to the decision to remove the flag. City offices were flooded with calls, and more than 200 people rallied at the park in September.
Although the memorial is on city-owned land, the money for the park was raised by the American Legion. Members of that group decided to include the Christian flag without consulting city officials.
“We aren’t going to lay down for this,” Jim Rasmond, a member of the local American Legion post told the Winston-Salem Journal. “I don’t believe in one person telling all of us what to do.”
City officials continue to mull over the matter. Last month, they considered three options: permanently remove the flag from the park; create a limited public forum that would allow for display on one flagpole of flags of religions, religious symbols or emblems recognized by the U.S. military for placement on government markers or transfer the memorial to a private entity such as a veterans group.
The council discussed the matter during an Oct. 13 meeting but did not make a decision. Warren declined to comment further, saying that the city’s attorneys have advised him not to.