A silhouette of a soldier kneeling next to a cross that is part of a veteran's memorial was removed from public property in North Carolina last Tuesday, ending a years-long battle over the display that was touched off by a "non-Christian" veteran's 2010 complaint over its presence.
The city council in King called the decision to remove the display, along with a Christian flag, "difficult," claiming in a press release that "it was not reached until it became clear that the costs of proceeding to trial would greatly exceed the city's insurance policy limits," reported Christian Today.
The council voted 3-2 last week to remove these elements from King's Central Park, approving a settlement that was reached in the lawsuit Steven Hewett v. the City of King.
With two city council members standing on each side of the settlement proposal, Mayor Jack Warren broke the vote in favor of the provision to remove the symbols, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
The statue at the center of the debate (Liberty Institute)
One of the council members who voted against settling, Brian Carico, a Christian, reportedly got choked up while discussing the contentious matter, noting that officials lost sleep over the debate and that he felt the city had done nothing wrong in allowing the symbols.
Wesley Carter, the other council member who voted against settling, accused detractors who opposed the symbols of "bullying," calling the removal a sad day for the city.
"I feel this city has been sabotaged and bullied by folks who don’t believe in what this community stands for. I feel like we have been pressured by insurance companies and attorneys who have never been to King," he reportedly said while voting against the provision. "They don’t know what we are about and what this community stands for."
The monument was removed last Tuesday night following the vote, Fox News reported.
King officials had reportedly already spent $50,000 defending the symbols and the overall cost, which officials said would be paid by taxpayers, could have neared $2 million — fees that were above and beyond what city insurance would cover.
As part of the agreement, though, the city will reportedly pay $500,001 to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a church-state group that brought the lawsuit on behalf of Steven Hewett, a veteran of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, according to Fox News.
As TheBlaze previously reported, Hewett, who was identified as a “non-Christian” in past a statement addressing the matter, first complained in July 2010, asking the city to remove a Christian flag from the war memorial — but officials and residents apparently fought back.
Watch the mayor and council discuss the issue below:
While the King City Council initially voted in September 2010 to remove the Christian symbol after its attorney said that it violates the First Amendment, 5,000 residents showed up at a rally in October to defend its presence. And in December 2010, officials implemented a lottery in an attempt to stem controversy and find a middle ground, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Under the new system, 52 veterans were chosen to be honored each year — one per week — and the person who sponsored each individual was invited to choose which flag could be displayed. Americans United has said, though, that the Christian flag has been displayed the majority of the time.
In a past statement, Hewett has said: “I am reluctantly bringing this case so that the courts will require the City of King to respect the religious freedoms that I fought for.”
The King Veteran’s Memorial was installed in 2004 and the American Legion, a defendant in the case, added the praying soldier silhouette near the memorial in 2008. Now, the courts will decide the monument’s fate.
(H/T: Christian Today)