The city of King in North Carolina is settling a lawsuit by removing a Christian flag and metal statue of a soldier kneeling and praying before a cross from a veteran memorial in the city’s central park. The decision to remove the memorial followed a lawsuit by Afghanistan War Veteran Steven Hewett, who alleged that the memorial violated his constitutional rights by promoting the Christian religion over others.
The U.S. Army Veteran sued in November 2012 to have the Christian emblems, flag, cross, and kneeling soldier removed from the memorial in King, a city about 15 miles north of Winston-Salem, with a population of about 6,000.
The agreement also required that the city’s insurance company pay $500,000 to Americans United For Separation of Church and State and $1 in nominal damages to Hewett.
The memorial, removed on Tuesday night, was erected on land owned by the city. It was dedicated about a decade ago and paid for through private donations, according to Fox News. City officials said in a statement that they took the decision to settle the lawsuit — after incurring more than $50,000 in legal fees and related costs — to avoid further avoidable costs that could impose a burden on taxpayers.
“Both sides in this matter wish to avoid further costs, and this agreement will ensure that the City of King will not spend additional taxpayers’ funds to continue litigation in federal court.”
King City Manager Homer Dearmin estimated that total litigation costs would have exceeded $2 million, more than the city’s $1 million insurance coverage.
“The decision to settle this case has been very difficult for the King City Council. It was not reached until it became clear that the costs of proceeding to trial would greatly exceed the City’s insurance policy limits.”
King Councilman Dillard Burnette said officials thought it was wiser to settle the lawsuit after expert advice that the city was likely to lose. They also came under pressure from the city’s insurer who insisted on a settlement, threatening to drop coverage if they refused.
“When you have a judge and lawyers telling you cannot win the case, then you are throwing good money at nothing. This came down to if we did pursue it to the next round, we would pick up more legal fees than this city could afford.”
Councilman Charles Allen said it would be unfair to place the burden of the cost of litigation on taxpayers. With specific reference to the city insurer, Scottsdale Insurance Company, city councilman Wesley Carter alleged the city was “bullied” into submission by outsiders who did not share the community’s values.
“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.”
Several members of the community, such as Danny Newsome, have called on city officials to continue fighting the lawsuit.
“I fully believe in the right of flying our flag. Continue to fight for them to give us the right to fly the flag,” Newsome said.
Local Christians, such as Ray Martini, a Vietnam War veteran, argued that the emblems were not meant to promote Christianity but honor war veterans
“If you want to take down the flag then you are conceding to the minority. You are conceding to the devil… The cross has been in history as a marker for a lost soldier or a dead soldier. Now someone turns around and believes that it should not be there because it represents religion. It does not.”
Jack Westmoreland, a veteran who said he has five members of his family, going back to World War I, listed on the city’s war memorial, argued that the decision violates “freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”
“This country was founded on the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. I ask that you give me my right to freedom of religion.”
David Keaton lamented the decision, saying that the city could not afford to turn its back on God by removing the memorial.
“My heart is broke because that flag is not up right now. I am not knocking their rights, but don’t take mine away from me. God all mighty has blessed King and we do not need to turn our back on him.”
But explaining his reason for bringing the lawsuit, Hewett said it was unfair to set up a Christian memorial in honor of religiously diverse veterans. He said the memorial was offensive and violated the constitutional rights of non-Christian servicemen.
“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.”
The city plans to replace the memorial with a new kneeling solider without the cross and “Christian flag.”
[Image: via The Blaze]