King proceeds with flag lottery plans
by Meghann Evans
The King City Council has called for another closed session to discuss a lawsuit over religious symbols at the King Veterans Memorial, but for now the city is carrying on with its standard process for determining which religious flags will be flown next year.
The council called a meeting for Nov. 9 to discuss the Steven Hewett vs. City of King lawsuit during executive session, and no action was taken. The council has called another meeting for Thursday, Nov. 29 at 10 a.m. at King City Hall. The meeting will also consist of a closed session. The city council has not yet released a public statement about the lawsuit.
Two weeks ago, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit on behalf of local veteran Steven Hewett against King. Americans United claimed in a statement that the city “is violating the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions by displaying sectarian symbols at a veterans’ memorial.”
The group is asking the city to remove Christian symbols from its veterans memorial, including the Christian flag and a statue that depicts a soldier kneeling before a cross.
Hewett, a former police officer and decorated U.S. Army veteran, first asked the city to remove the Christian flag from the city’s veterans memorial in 2010. The request sparked strong controversy in the city and resulted in King creating a lottery system for determining which religious flag will fly at the memorial each week.
The Christian flag flies the majority of weeks, which is pointed out in the lawsuit paperwork. In both 2011 and 2012, the schedule showed the Christian flag flying all but five weeks of the year.
The lottery, also known as a limited public forum, takes place at the end of every year. King City Manager John Cater said in an email Friday that “currently the plan is to continue with the limited public forum lottery in December.”
Per city policy, applications are accepted between Dec. 1 and 15 each year. Application forms can be picked up at King City Hall or printed from the city’s website: www.ci.king.nc.us. According to a public notice ad from the city, the lottery will be held at 2 p.m. on Dec. 20 at the Carl Calloway American Legion Post 290, located at 446 S. Main Street, King.
The policy determines which flag flies at the 11th flagpole at the memorial. The flags have to be flown in honor of veterans who lived in the King area and must represent one of 41 approved flags. Selected applicants can also choose not to fly a flag during their week.
Last year the city reported receiving 59 certified applications for the lottery and 14 that did not qualify under the certification criteria. The 59 eligible applications were numbered, and numbered pingpong balls were put into a Bingo container and selected at random.
According to the city’s policy: “Any citizen who is domiciled in King, North Carolina shall be permitted to request the flying of a flag representing the faith tradition of a veteran flown in honor of the veteran’s service or sacrifice.” Others who can apply are family members of veterans who were memorialized by having their names inscribed on a quarry tile at the Veterans Memorial by Nov. 30, 2010. A policy for the limited public forum is located on the city website under “Public Notices.”
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