A North Carolina town has finally thrown in the towel on a years-long court battle by agreeing to remove a veterans' memorial statue from its central park that featured a praying soldier kneeling before a cross and a Christian flag.
After spending approximately $50,000 in legal fees to help preserve the memorial at King Central Park, and willing to spend no more, the King City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to agree on a settlement with the plaintiff, a former U.S. Army soldier, that would force the city to remove the statue and take down the Christian flag.
The city council vote took place in front of a room of about 60 of the town's residents and many of them shook their heads in disapproval as the board announced the settlement. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that a few residents interjected with notions such as: "What else are you going to give up next?"
Council members who voted for the settlement cited their reasoning to be that the city's taxpayers could no longer afford to fight in the court battle.
"The decision to settle this case has been very difficult for the King City Council," a press release from the city said. "It was not reached until it became clear that the cost of proceeding to trial would greatly exceed the city's insurance policy limits."
The press release explained that if the city of King wanted to complete the court process to even have a chance at preserving the memorial, legal fees would have cost the King taxpayers about $2 million, which the Journal states is exceeding the city's $1 million insurance coverage.
"There's no win in this situation," said Mayor Pro Tem. Dillard Brunette, who voted for the settlement.
A city council member who voted against the settlement, Wesley Carter, understands why other members of the council voted for removing the memorial, but said he still doesn't think it's right for it to be forcefully removed considering that most members of the community want to keep it there.
"I do feel that this city has been sabotaged and has been bullied by folks that don't believe what this community stands for," Carter said.
U.S. Army veteran Steven Hewett, represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sued the city in 2012 and claimed that the city violated the Constitution by promoting Christianity and by having the Christian flag and praying soldier statue. Hewett asked the judge to bar them from displaying the flag and statue. In July, a U.S. district judge ordered the city to stop promoting Christianity and ruled that the issue of the Christian flag and prayer statue could proceed to trial.
Another council member who voted against the settlement, Brian Carico, said that he feels the city did not violate the Constitution.
The Journal also reports that David Keaton, who is the pastor at Missions Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and a King resident, said that God had blessed the city of King and it was wrong for the town to turn its back on God.
Although the settlement forces King to remove the Christianity-themed memorial, there was recent victory for religion and defeat for Americans United for Separation of Church and State in North Carolina this November, when a federal court order was lifted against the residents of Forsyth County that stated they could not pray in the name of a specific religious deity, such as Jesus Christ, in public prayers.
"The Supreme Court affirmed the freedom of Americans to pray according to their consciences before public meetings," Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Brett Harvey said in a press release. "For that reason, the district court was right to lift its previous order against Forsyth County's prayer policy."