Flag Football: Religious Right Sneak Play Would Keep Christian Banner Flying

As usual, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is advancing a scheme to skirt the Constitution.

Lawyers at the Religious Right legal outfit have come to the aid of city officials in King, N.C., eager to provide advice on a new policy regarding religious flags at the community veterans memorial.

In mid-August, Americans United and the ACLU requested that the King City Council remove a Christian flag at the memorial, asserting that symbol of one faith does not represent all veterans and shows unconstitutional government favoritism to one religion.

The council then voted, on advice from the city attorney, to remove the flag, leading to a community uproar. More than 5,000 people marched in King on Oct. 23, urging the city council to restore the salute to the majority faith.

Last week, the council voted 4-0 to develop a new policy. Under the proposed scheme, the city would reserve one flag pole at the memorial for flags featuring faith symbols recognized by the U.S. military for memorials. Flags would fly one at a time on a rotating basis. By opening the flag pole up to the 41 other faiths recognized by the military, the city believes it is in compliance with the Constitution.

That remains to be seen. With the ADF as an adviser, we’re not so sure that when the policy is put into practice it will meet constitutional muster.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, AU’s executive director, is already raising questions.

“A policy like that would have the effect of favoring religion over nonreligion, which the Supreme Court has said is a violation of church-state separation,” Lynn told the Winston-Salem Journal.

And now we’re seeing that some residents of the community are gung ho to make sure only the Christian flag is displayed. This plan was revealed on the Facebook page, Christian Flag-King. The page serves to “educate, inform and update the King community and supporters to restore and keep the Christian flag flying at the Veteran's Memorial in Central Park.” It has more than 4,000 members.

On Nov. 4, Christian Flag-King reposted a comment from Pastor Kevin Broyhill, who explained how the city can keep its sectarian bias in place. He wrote:

“The city will set the stipulations of who can fly a flag in honor of their loved one who has served in the Armed Forces. That is where the word ‘limited’ comes in. It restricts who can participate which will eliminate outsiders from taking over the pole. The idea is for Christians to fill up the reservation list and tie up the pole for years to come. This will ensure that the Christian Flag keeps flying. Calvary [Baptist Church] will buy several Christian Flags for people to use so that everyone doesn't have to buy their own flag. We'll even put it up for you!”

If this is the kind of policy the ADF is promoting, it’s not going to fly.  Even the Winston-Salem Journal has its suspicions.

In an editorial that praised the council’s decision to develop a fair policy, the Journal, noting the ADF’s polarizing stances on controversial issues, wrote, “We’d recommend caution to any municipality that considers entering into a partnership with the ADF.”

I second that recommendation. The city must be careful to ensure the policy is not only neutral on religion on its face, but also neutral in practice. Americans United will be watching to make sure that happens.