The City of King has responded to a lawsuit by Steven Hewett over Christian symbols at King Veterans Memorial, denying allegations that it has “exploited the memory of American soldiers for the purpose of promoting Christianity.”
The 24-page response was filed in U.S. District Court in Greensboro by Elizabeth A. Martineau of Martineau King, PLLC. It counters many of Hewett’s complaints, including the claim that the city “promotes Christianity” or “ostracizes anyone with different religious beliefs.”
It also denies that the city adopted a flag policy as a plan for returning the Christian flag to the veterans memorial, stating that the King City Council adopted a limited public forum policy with the advice of counsel. The response also states that Hewett has not suffered “direct and personal injury from the displays.” It further states that the displays are erected by and belong to private entities.
Notices of appearance were also filed on behalf of Bryan Beauman of Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC of Lexington, Kentucky, and Joseph P. Infranco of Alliance Defending Freedom in Scottsdale, Arizona, as co-counsels for the city, with Martineau as the local counsel.
Alliance Defending Freedom has agreed to provide counsel at no charge to the city. The King City Council unanimously approved the appointment of the ADF during a meeting last week.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, “a civil liberties education and legal defense organization that provides legal representation,” will face off against Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Both groups have handled cases garnering national attention.
Americans United filed the lawsuit against King on behalf of local veteran Steven Hewett last year, claiming the city “is violating the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions by displaying sectarian symbols at a veterans’ memorial.” On behalf of Hewett, 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 its 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 most weeks of the year, which is pointed out in the lawsuit paperwork.
The formal complaint, which was posted on American United’s website, cites numerous claims that city officials and employees disparaged religious minorities. It claims that the city sought to silence those such as Hewett who objected to the Christian flag flying and that the city created a “sham public forum for religious flags — knowing and intending that the Christian flag would dominate the forum.”