In August of 2003, the Mayor of King, two city staff members, and five American Legion members commissioned a committee to create a process by which King could have a memorial to recognize members of our community who have served in the armed forces. The Veterans Memorial Committee distributed information about the project to businesses, the chamber of commerce, and local churches as well as placing ads in local newspapers; banners were created and used in parades, festivals and fairs; and a scale model of the project, which included miniature reproductions of 11 flags—along with applications for the purchase of memorial pavers—was placed in various settings throughout King for the public to see.
The presence of a Christian flag in the mock-up of the Memorial offended no one.
While the original estimate on the Memorial’s construction was $100,000, once bids came in, Magnolia Construction won the bid with a price of $278,000. Work began about 2 months after the bid was finalized and was completed in 4 months and within budget.
At the Memorial’s dedication, on November 11, 2004, the Christian flag offended no one.
As of June 30, 2008, per the City of King, total expenditures for the project totaled roughly $390,000.
Of that total, $226,941 in revenues and services had been DONATED by this community for the construction of THEIR Veterans Memorial.
The Stokes County Arts Council, whose programs for Stokes County citizens create shared and lasting experiences that connect participants to their heritage, commissioned Calloway’s Welding to create a statue of a soldier kneeling before a cross, mourning a fallen brother-in-arms; once completed, it too was placed at the Memorial.
The Christian flag flew and the fallen soldier statue stood at the Veterans Memorial where they offended no one for YEARS, until an anonymous person, in July of 2010, claimed Constitutional offense and demanded they be removed, or else…
The Declaration of Independence states: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Article I, Section 13 of the North Carolina Constitution recognizes that ‘All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and that no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.’
Our Constitution is a legal document. It is 237 years old. And the ‘promise’ of that document to us hasn’t changed. Not once.
There HAVE been efforts to crush the words and the will of We the people. When it happened here in King, it began with an anonymous phone call to the city manager in July of 2010. The caller objected to the Christian Flag Display at the Veterans Memorial because he believed that the City’s display of the banner excluded and demeaned his religious beliefs and those of other veterans. On August 2nd, the City Council voted unanimously to allow the flag to remain, and the anonymous complainant took his offensive the next step by contacting the ALCU, who in turn, sent their August 16th cease and desist letter to the City of King.
In a September 15th split-vote, the City Council decided to remove the flag upon the advice of the City attorney, “citing the enormous cost associated with fighting a potential law suit on the issue.” The September 16, 2010 removal of the Christian flag from the Veterans Memorial occurred—not because one person no longer wanted it there—but because he had known precisely who to contact in order to bully the city government of a small town into submission. The ACLU’s demand for the Christian flag’s removal from the Memorial, or have the City face a lawsuit that could financially cripple the small township, is tried-and-true ACLU harassment.
On September 17, the still-anonymous complainant sent a statement to FOX News stating he had anonymously filed complaints with the ACLU and AU because, “…regardless the form of government, it has no right to impose any type of religious belief upon its population.” He noted, “I did so anonymously to avoid ridicule from both the public and the type presented by our City Council members.”
And what was the ridicule the anonymous person believed he had been subjected to? Prayer. The City Council members had prayed for him, and the citizens of King and Stokes County had prayed for him because, as Christians, we are taught to pray for everyone, even those who would be our enemy. Our prayers for another American, especially a veteran—whether he shares our spiritual beliefs or NOT—is hardly a method of ridicule: it is doing the right thing even when it isn’t expected… it’s called common decency.
During his statement to FOX News, the anonymous man became “Steve” and stated that he ALSO planned to file a complaint with the ACLU about a statue at the memorial which depicted a soldier kneeling next to a cross. In that instant, “Steve’s” assault upon how this community chose to honor its veterans and beloved war-dead, became an attack upon all who bravely and selflessly serve to protect this Republic–past, present and future.
Within hours of “Steve’s” September 17th declaration, this community stood up, as one people, and pledged to defend both their Veterans Memorial AND their God-given right to freedom OF religious expression. The first of 3 Facebook pages, “Return the Christian Flag to King,” began on September 19th; the first call for community members to assemble in prayer at the Memorial occurred on the 20th; and by the 21st, a legal and peaceful protest by area Veterans and the Stokes County Militia had begun. Local protesters embraced all-comers… Veterans, citizens, clergy and bikers… Rolling Thunder, the Patriot Guard and American Legion riders… Christians, Jews, Agnostics and Atheists… Black, White, the very old, the very fragile, the very poorest and the very wealthiest among us. They all came. And on October 23rd, 5000 of these same people marched and rode in support of religious freedom at our Veterans Memorial.
The peoples’ peaceful protest that began because of an anonymous claim of Constitutional injury, lasted, uninterrupted, for 103 days and nights… until the Christian flag was returned to its pole at the Memorial on January 3rd, 2011. The Limited Public Forum– a lottery, of sorts – established in an effort to appease “Steve’s” claim that only Christians in the community had a voice at the Memorial, allowed persons living in King, or who had a family member memorialized on a quarry tile at the Memorial, to submit an application for their emblem of belief to be flown for 1 week in honor of their Veteran. Over 70 applications were received, and “Steve” submitted 5 applications himself, one each on behalf of several family members who had served in the military. On each submission, he chose the Christian flag, despite the fact that ‘approved’ flags for the lottery included all that are recognized by the US Dept of Veterans Affairs—and there’s 58 of them. For “Steve” to claim unconstitutionality of Christian symbols at a Veterans Memorial, then, request that a Christian symbol fly in honor of Veterans in his own family, simply made no sense. He later claimed that he only listed the Christian flag for each application because he feared that City officials would reject his applications if he sought to fly anything else.
“Steve” feared that City officials, those same people who had dared to pray for him, would sabotage him… and him a Veteran, one of the hundreds of Veterans the Memorial in King was meant to honor!
Despite an eventual claim from him that the Limited Public Forum process was also unconstitutional, “Steve” continued his yearly participation in the lottery. Regular complaints to the media continued, as well, until we learned in November of 2012 that a lawsuit had been filed by Americans United on his behalf against the City of King. On February 20, 2013, The American Legion and American Legion Post 290 in King petitioned for permissive intervention in the civil case. As members of the Veterans Memorial Committee, they had an obligation to stand with the City of King; but, more importantly, they had the right to have THEIR voices heard. Just as each of US has the right to have OUR voices heard.
Christian faith in the lives of the majority of King and Stokes County residents is absolute; it is NOT a sometimes-faith, nor is it a faith-of-convenience. In this county, there are more than 80 churches spread across 452 square miles of a mostly-rural landscape. That equates to a place of worship every 5.2 miles for approximately 47,400 people [per the 2010 United States Census.] In the same way “Steve’s” complaint was not going to change the physical landscape or the religious demographics of this county, The Limited Public Forum, no matter how well intended, was never going to satisfy the ACLU or the AU. These organizations, for whom no religious tolerance exists, want anything that even appears to infer some relation to Christianity, on public land, completely removed.
Which brings us back to the fallen soldier statue.
Since 1775, millions of Americans have served in this nation’s military. The cross is a universally recognized grave marker. It indicates the burial place of fallen brothers in arms and thus, is a sacred marker upon thousands of our servicemen and women’s graves. Laid out in perfect symmetry across acres and acres of the earth, in this nation and abroad, honoring the sacrifice of Americans who fought oppression at the hands of dictators, these FIELDS of crosses remain sacred ground…for all persons of conscience, regardless their religious beliefs.
The metal statue we’re missing today was of a cross upon a grave, with a soldier kneeling on one knee, a cold rifle in his hand and his head bowed in grief with a welder’s permanence. THAT image represented THIS community’s recognition, appreciation and reverence for the sacrifices of those who gave all for the preservation of this Republic. Its removal in January undermined our ancestors’ AND OUR fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; its removal denied us and our children the assurance that all men are still created equal; and its removal taunts us with the PROMISE that, unless we take a stand now and say no more, those unalienable rights we were endowed with by our Creator WILL continue to be set aside—town by town– by the same deep-pocketed, special interest groups who demanded we in King must do what one person demands or else! The agnosticizing of our great Republic must stop now.