Yielding to atheists, Alabama city removes Christian flag, citing high cost of litigation

The Christian flag (right) flies beside the US and Alabama State flags outside the police station in Glencoe, Alabama.(FFRF website)

The city of Glencoe in Alabama removed a Christian flag from a pole outside its police station after an atheist group sent a letter of complaint.

Mayor Charles Gilchrist told Fox 6 WBRC network that the flag was taken down after the city council met in an executive session. The flag flew beside the US and Alabama State flags.

Gilchrist said the city could not afford the costly litigation if the city is sued similar to a North Carolina city which had to pay $550,000 in damages and legal fees.

"That would just about ruin us. That's what they do. They pick on these smaller towns that can't defend ourselves," he told the network.

The letter was sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an association of atheists and agnostics.

"The Christian flag was designed by Protestants in the early 20th century and continues to be displayed in Protestant churches throughout the country," FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel told the city in the letter.

He added, "It is unconstitutional for a government entity to fly a flag with a patently religious symbol and meaning on its grounds. You must take immediate action and refrain from hoisting this flag up the flagpole."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, hailed Glencoe's decision.

"Reason will prevail. In this case, it was so patently obvious why a civil, secular government can't endorse Christianity in this particular way," she said.

In the letter, FFRF said the flag infringed on the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

"The display of this patently religious symbol on city property confers government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause. The cross on the flag pole of Glencoe's city hall building unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity. It conveys the message to the 26 percent of the US population who are not Christians that they are not 'favoured members of the political community,'" it said.