Hundreds of King, N.C., residents have held protests and camped out at the city's Central Park for nearly two months after city officials were pressured into removing a Christian flag from the park's Veterans Memorial.
Since September, King city veterans have taken 24-hour shifts to protect a replacement flag in Central Park and a statue of a soldier kneeling before a cross after city officials removed the original flag in August. City officials cited financial costs as the reason for the flag's removal after it received complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union, in conjunction with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Earlier this month, roughly 500 King residents packed a school gymnasium to meet with city council members and to protest the removal of the original flag, which had been up for roughly six years. Residents encouraged the city to "stand up" against the ACLU.
City officials, however, said they could anticipate a lawsuit if the city continued to finance the flag. A legal battle with the ACLU might cost between $200,000 and $300,000 and the city said it cannot afford to bear those costs.
"The ACLU would bankrupt the city of King and if there was a court case, we could not pay it," a city official said at the meeting.
The letters from ACLU and AU were sent after the council received an anonymous call in August complaining about the flag. The King City Council, at the time, voted against removing the flag.
The North Carolina chapters of the ACLU and AU, in response, took up the cause of the caller, believed to be a veteran of the Afghanistan war, sending letters urging the council to remove the flag.
"We don't have any concerns with the veterans groups displaying the flag," said Katy Parker, the legal director of ACLU's local chapter. "We were concerned when the city was sponsoring the Christian flag."
AU Communications Associate Sandhya Bathija, meanwhile, argued against the appropriateness of a Christian flag when the United States is not a Christian nation.
"Many Americans seem to be confused and believe that because majority of Americans are Christians that means the United States is a Christian nation," Bathija wrote on the organization's website.
"Many seem to think that the majority should be able to vote and take away the rights of the minority. That's simply not how it works," Bathija added.
The flag's removal ignited an uprising of community members, who put their own Christian flag at the memorial near to where the original once waved. Supporters have also been hanging Christian flags in home windows, store fronts, and on cars. On Saturday, residents carrying Christian and American flags marched through town on Main Street to the memorial wall where a bare flag pole stood among seven other with flags still flying high.
Veterans including Ray Martini, who served in Vietnam, have pitched tents at the memorial to guard the new flag while others bring the supporters home-cooked meals.
"This monument stands on hallowed ground," Martini told National Public Radio. "It kills me when I think people want to essentially desecrate it."
Supporters also fear a statue depicting a cross may also in danger of removal. However, the statue was not mentioned in either organization's letters.
The Christian Flag was first conceived in New York in 1897. Sunday School Superintendent Charles Overton later redesigned and promoted the flag. The current one is a white with a blue square in the upper left hand corner. Inside the square is a red cross.