Some of you might recall a bit of a fuss that erupted in the town of King, N.C., last year over the flying of a Christian flag in a public park that serves as a veterans’ memorial.
When Americans United protested on behalf of a local veteran, city officials at first agreed (reluctantly) that to remove the Christian symbol. AU and the vet argued that a sectarian symbol like the cross does not represent all war dead.
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) intervened and convinced city officials to draw up a new policy that declared a certain flagpole in the park a public forum. Town residents would be allowed to enter a lottery drawing, and, if they won, fly the flag of their choice for a week (as long as the flag contains a symbol recognized by the U.S. military for memorials).
Local officials and their pals in the ADF knew that most people in town would want to fly the Christian flag. Thus, the entire scheme was little more than a ruse to keep the religious symbol flying.
In fact, a local minister admitted as much. On a Facebook page he wrote, “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!”
But a funny thing happened: Some people who won the lottery decided they don’t want to fly any flag at all. The Winston-Salem Journal reported that this week Steven Hewett won the lottery and requested no flag. The Christian flag was removed yesterday.
Hewett told the newspaper that by flying no flag, he is honoring the service of all veterans, including his brother Paul, who served with the Army in Afghanistan.
“We serve under one flag, the U.S. flag,” Hewett said. (The memorial already contains a U.S. flag.)
Earlier this month, another King resident, Cynthia Becker, also chose to fly no flag. Becker said she was honoring her father, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to 1962.
Naturally, some people in town aren’t happy about this. Some people have brought portable Christian flags to the site. One resident, Stephen James, is even threatening court action. James claims the city’s policy requires lottery winners to fly some type of flag.
Watching this unfold, I can’t help but think that the city of King has become an object lesson in why we need separation of church and state. The idea behind the public park was to honor people who had served our nation in the armed forces. Does anyone even remember that in King? Most people in town seem more interested in using the flagpole to put forth the erroneous idea that America is an officially Christian nation.
All of this community discord could have been prevented if the town has simply stuck to a secular war memorial that honors all dead service personnel. Residents who wanted religious symbolism would be free to incorporate that into a grave marker of some other private memorial.
Men and women from many faiths and none have given their lives to protect this nation and its core values – one of which is religious liberty for everyone. We should honor them all. The types of antics under way in King don’t even begin to do that.