Christian Flag Not Coming Down, Says Tenn. School Board

Unicoi County Board of Education in Tennessee says it will continue to fly the Christian flag in their meetings.
Unicoi County Board of Education in Tennessee says it will continue to fly the Christian flag in their meetings. | (Photo: Screenshot/WJHL)

A school board in Tennessee's Unicoi County says it will continue to display a Christian flag at all their meetings despite complaints by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claims it's a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Unicoi County Board of Education Chairman Tyler Engle said the board has no plan to remove the flag.

"I'm unsure as to how long the flag has been displayed here, you know its not something that is intentionally brought out at every meeting, it is here in the room even when the board doesn't meet," Engle told WJHL.

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"Our attorney is carefully reviewing the constitutional precedent and the constitutional law as well as the case law that is cited in the letter," he added. "The board is not planning to take immediate action."

The FFRF raised objections in a recent letter to Director of Schools, John English.

"The Christian flag being displayed during public school board meetings unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert claimed.

"The display of this Christian flag is a brazen affront to the Establishment Clause of the Constitution," Markert wrote. "Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages of iconography in public schools. A majority of federal courts have held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion."

"I was alerted to the letter, obviously the entire board was, it was addressed to the board in care of the superintendent, and the reaction was the normal reaction, of course we wanted to follow our protocol and procedure to follow a request from an organization," Engle added.

"The Christian flag, designed by Protestants in the early 20th century, features a Latin cross, and each of the flag's three colors represent a different aspect of Christianity: blue refers to the baptism in water, white represents biblical conceptions of purity and red signifies the crucifixion of Jesus Christ," FFRF describes the flag on its website.

FFRF is the nation's largest atheist organization and claims to represent more than 23,000 members, including about 280 in Tennessee.

A local resident, Anthony Owens, told WCYB that the FFRF's argument sounds ridiculous. The decision should be made by the board, and not an outside organization, he said.

"It's their personal choice if they want to take it down or not," Owens was quoted as saying. "There's a church on almost every corner," he said. "In my personal opinion, it won't come down."

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