Hewett Files Suit Over Christian Flag at Memorial


A few months ago I had Steven Hewett, an Army vet who returned from Afghanistan to find that his hometown of King, NC had put up a memorial to fallen soldiers and was flying a Christian flag over it, on my radio show. He told me then that a lawsuit was in the works and that suit has now been filed. You can read the full complaint here.

This case started about 2 1/2 years ago, when Hewett first complained to city leaders about the Christian flag flying over the memorial. The city first agreed to remove the flag, then changed their minds and followed the advice of the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund) in creating a limited public forum. What they did was institute a lottery system that allowed different groups to apply for the right to control the flag for a certain number of weeks, to be decided by lottery. That way, they reasoned, each group can decide which flag to fly and now it’s no longer government expression but private expression. As a result, the Christian flag only flies 47 weeks of the year instead of 52.

Some facts from the complaint:

When Mr. Hewett objected, the City Manager warned that Mr. Hewett would “answer to God and Jesus Christ”; the Mayor stated—at a City Council meeting, no less—that Mr. Hewett “needs us to pray for him.”

After its lawyer warned that its conduct was unconstitutional, the City purported to remove the flag; but it immediately established a sham “limited public forum” as a “plan for returning the Christian flag to the Veteran’s Memorial.” True to plan, under the so-called public forum, the very same Christian flag has flown at the Veterans’ Memorial all but a few weeks of every year.

Flying the Christian flag is not the only way that the City promotes Christianity at the Veterans Memorial. Next to the Christian flag, the City built a statue of a soldier kneeling before a cross (“the Cross Statue”). Official, City-sponsored events to commemorate Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, and September 11 have consistently featured multiple Christian prayers delivered by City officials and invited clergy. And a variety of other practices have reinforced the City’s commitment to promoting Christianity and ostracizing anyone with different religious beliefs.

Whether Jews or Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists, Atheists or Agnostics, American soldiers of diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs have fought, bled, and died for their country. The Constitution prohibits the City from exploiting their sacrifice to promote Christian worship.

There has already been a documentary made about Hewett’s case and the predictable reaction of local residents. When he first complained about it, a huge rally was held where speakers demanded that Hewett be chased out of the community. And one guy bluntly said that he thinks they should beat Hewett up — but then they should “extend a hand of Christian charity” to help him up afterwards. Hewett will definitely be part of my book.

Comments

  1. eric says

    Secular residents of King, NC, this is your chance! Get in that lottery, and demonstrate just how insincere the city is about the current solution.

    I don’t know how many weeks would create a tipping point, but you can bet your fortune that the community will abandon their lottery system the moment they think the wrong flags are being flown for too many weeks.

  2. hunter says

    And one guy bluntly said that he thinks they should beat Hewett up — but then they should “extend a hand of Christian charity” to help him up afterwards.

    You wonder if these people ever really listen to themselves.

  3. Doug Little says

    Get in that lottery, and demonstrate just how insincere the city is about the current solution

    Yeah we need to see the Jolly Roger flying for most of the year. That would be awesome.

  4. Draken says

    Well, doesn’t this limited public forum open up the possibility for the followers of the Old Ones to start the rites to summon Yog-Sothoth? You know, dark clothing, gothic make-up, bonfire, inunderstandable prayers, that sort of thing.

    Maybe the City rethinks their decision then.

  5. says

    And one guy bluntly said that he thinks they should beat Hewett up — but then they should “extend a hand of Christian charity” to help him up afterwards.

    People like this really worry me. They seem to think morality works like an oversimplified videogame karma system. You get -3 points for attacking an NPC, but you get +5 for healing them. Result: Player grinds up good karma by continuously, sadistically beating up and healing one unfortunate NPC instead of actually doing heroic quests and the like in the intended spirit of the game.

    They’re just trying to find ways to exploit the superficial trappings of morality without understanding any of the core principles.

  6. eric says

    Draken: unfortunately, no. The limits on the public forum are:
    -Must be a religious flag
    -Containing a symbol recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs
    -With no writing on it except what might be in the official DVA ‘emblem of belief.’

    Moreover, to participate in the lottery you must be:
    -A resident or
    -Someone honoring a veteran named on the monument…but only veterans named on the monument before November 30, 2010.

    Cthluhu mythos fails the first set of criteria (no DVA recognition). As does the Jolly Roger and FSM’s Jolly Fish. But the second set are probably the bigger establishment problem. Here’s some money quotes:

    When a nonresident asked the City why the Flag Policy prohibited most nonresidents from participating, City Clerk Tammy Hatley replied that the restrictions were designed to minimize the number of applicants seeking to display anything other than the Christian flag.

    and

    Pastor Broyhill helped the City Council devise the Flag Policy, which he acknowledged “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.”

    Seems pretty cut and dried to me – that has “Lemon test prong 1 fail” written all over because the policy has no secular purpose.

  7. eric says

    One more quote:

    After adopting the Flag Policy, the City received over seventy applications to display a flag: as the City anticipated and intended, virtually all applicants sought to display the Christian flag. Non-Christians expressed
    fear that if they submitted an application for any other flag, they would be shunned and their businesses boycotted. Indeed, King business-owners who had previously articulated support for Mr. Hewett were threatened with boycotts; another resident who protested against the return of the Christian flag was driven out of business.

    Now, boycotting someone because you don’t like their flag choice is perfectly legal. But once people start losing their businesses because they chose to participate in a government-run program honoring veterans, then arguably it fails Lemon’s second prong too – the primary effect of the monument has now become to advance religion. It serves as a sort of religious loyalty test.

  8. matty1 says

    Doesn’t the United States of America have a flag? That might be more appropriate on a government funded memorial to people who died fighting for the US.

  9. eric says

    @9 – there are 11 flags on the monument, and the US flag is one of them. More detailed, the flags are:
    -Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, and USCG flags
    -US flag
    -NC state flag
    -American Legion flag
    -POW/MIA flag
    -City of King flag
    -Protestant flag

    I guess we should be somewhat thankful they didn’t put the confederate battle flag up. But sing along with me: “one of these things is not like the others/one of these things just doesn’t belong.”

  10. says

    hunter “You wonder if these people ever really listen to themselves.”
    Oh, please! It’s right there in the Bible:

    John8:1-11, 8:1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
    8:2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
    8:3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman who thought that minorities had rights too; and when they had set her in the midst,
    8:4 They say unto him, “Master, this woman thinks that minorities had rights too.
    8:5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”
    8:6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
    8:7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them “…Stone…her.”
    8:8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
    8:9 And they did that. The stoning, I mean. But just for a while.
    8:10 And then Jesus helped her up, so it’s all good.
    8:11 And Jesus saith to her, “Do not fuck with our privilege”, and she fled to Canada or someplace.

  11. davem says

    Doesn’t the United States of America have a flag?

    I’m pretty sure they do; I was wondering WTF the ‘Christian Flag’ looks like. Make it a red cross on a white background, and you’d be flying the English Flag. :0)

  12. Steve the Drunk Unicyclist says

    Um … has anyone pointed out that their vaunted memorial is …

    A PENTAGRAM!

    Someone oughta sneak over with some chalk sometime (nothing permanent, of course) and draw cabalistic symbols all over it. Maybe a few candles … Watch the fundies have a hissy fit.

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