City sued over war memorial with Christian cross statue
The lawsuit over a war memorial in King, North Carolina, will proceed to trial, U.S. District Judge James A. Beaty ruled earlier this month.
The city's original memorial was erected in 2004 and in 2008, the city added a statue of a soldier kneeling before a Latin cross and below the Christian flag.
A complaint was filed back in 2012 by Steven Hewett, a veteran of the War in Afghanistan, for the memorial's 'Christian symbols.' He is represented by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Judge Beaty found that what the memorial symbolizes can be disputed.
"As the court has determined that there are genuine disputes of material fact relating to what the cross statue purports to depict, and as a result, a dispute remains regarding the history of the Latin cross that is part of the cross statue, the court finds that those issues should proceed to trial," he wrote in his decision.
Hewett was concerned that the memorial only recognized Christian war veterans, said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory Lipper.
"The soldiers who have fought and given their lives for our country have come from a variety of religious traditions; some have not practiced any religion at all," Lipper told the Christian Post.
"Yet the veterans memorial features a Christian flag and a monument of a soldier kneeling before a cross, and the city's memorial ceremonies have featured Christian prayers. The city is thus sending the message that only Christian soldiers are worth remembering."
The lawsuit also names the American Legion as a defendant. The Legion's Post 290 designed and erected the controversial monument addition, and denies any wrongdoing.
"The American Legion has joined as a defendant-intervenor in so far as the portion of the case which deals with the soldier kneeling before the cross," spokesman Mark Seavey told the Christian Post.
"The American Legion has taken no position with regard to the flag located nearby. However, in regard to the soldier portion, we do not believe that the inclusion of the cross violates the Constitution."
Seavey explained the intention of the memorial in a legal brief.
"[The] kneeling soldier statue depicts a symbolic historical scene of a soldier honoring a fallen comrade before a cruciform gravestone identical to the tens of thousands of such gravestones erected to mark the location of our country's hallowed war dead," the brief read.
"To any reasonable observer, the kneeling soldier statue depicts the sacrifice of all members of the U.S. Armed Forces and does not impermissibly endorse religion.
"That this statue reflects a historical reality – that many of the soldiers who died overseas during those conflicts were buried under crosses – does not make it unconstitutional."