The Religious Right’s Plan Backfires Again

Sometimes the Christian Right wins a battle… only to have it backfire on them. For example, they were the ones who pushed to have Christian clubs in public high schools, and that’s the main reason Secular Student Alliance groups are now able to exist (and I predict they’ll spread quickly).

Here’s another perfect example of that idea in action.

There’s a (privately funded) Veteran’s Memorial in (publicly funded) Central Park in King, North Carolina. Since 2004, a Christian flag has flown from the memorial. Because, you know, all veterans are Christians…

***Edit***: Regarding what I said in the paragraph above, it looks like only $90,000 of the $290,000 memorial was paid for with private funds. The rest is presumably taxpayer money, which would make this a public memorial.

Because of potential lawsuits from Americans United and the ACLU (and after an actual veteran complained), the city took down the flag last September.

So how did the Christian right respond? AU explains:

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) intervened and convinced city officials to draw up a new policy that declared a certain flagpole in the park a public forum. Town residents would be allowed to enter a lottery drawing, and, if they won, fly the flag of their choice for a week (as long as the flag contains a symbol recognized by the U.S. military for memorials).

Local officials and their pals in the ADF knew that most people in town would want to fly the Christian flag. Thus, the entire scheme was little more than a ruse to keep the religious symbol flying.

Sounds pretty shady. Conduct a lottery of citizens to see what they want. Let the majority decide what’s best, Constitution be damned. Since the majority of King is Christian, surely that’s a way to keep the Christian flag up there, right?

But here’s the beautiful part.

Some of the lottery winners are now choosing not to fly a flag at all.

[Steven] Hewett chose not to fly any flag, leaving the flagpole at the center of the church-and-state controversy in King unadorned for the rest of the week.

The Christian flag was lowered at 9:01 a.m., with about 20 people watching. There’s now a card at the base of the flag commemorating the service of Hewett’s brother, Paul, who served in the Army. Steven Hewett is a veteran who served in Afghanistan.

“We serve under one flag, the U.S. flag,” Hewett said.

By flying no flags, all veterans are represented, Hewett said.

In addition to Hewett, one other person, Cynthia Becker, has been allowed by the town not to fly a flag.

During the week of June 6, Becker, also chose not to display a flag. Becker was honoring her father, Theodore Becker, who served in the Navy from 1959 to 1962.

Cynthia Becker is a member of P.E.A.C.E. for L.I.F.E., an organization supports the separation of church and state.

“The American flag represents every American and every veteran, and the Christian flag excludes,” Becker said.

The Winston-Salem Journal has a wonderful picture of people taking down the Christian flag at the request of Steven Hewitt:

Suddenly, I have an urge to salute the American flag. It’s amazing how “controversial” it is to honor all veterans instead of just the Christian ones…

Rob Boston of Americans United summarizes why none of this should even be an issue in the first place:

All of this community discord could have been prevented if the town [had] simply stuck to a secular war memorial that honors all dead service personnel. Residents who wanted religious symbolism would be free to incorporate that into a grave marker of some other private memorial.

Men and women from many faiths and none have given their lives to protect this nation and its core values — one of which is religious liberty for everyone. We should honor them all. The types of antics under way in King don’t even begin to do that.

Maybe some of the residents in King will learn something from this. Unlike the commenters on the Journal‘s website…

  • WishinItWas

    The tactic of the religious using “mob rule” or majority rule is becoming more prevalent. Damn democracy and the constitution if it restricts what the majority wants. (and you happen to agree)

  • Raven

    From the linked article: “Stephen James, a resident of King, said he is hoping to get an injunction that would preclude the option of flying no flags.

    The way the town’s policy is written, there must be a flag flown and that flag must honor the faith of the veteran being honored, he said.”

    And if the person being honored recognized no faith? Then no flag. Easy-Peasy. But Stephen James’ objection further illustrates the fact that this is typical christian BS. I know I need to keep the language clean, so I will stop commenting now. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  • Vahdrok

    The injunction to always have a flag is a perfect example of why there has to be no flag.

  • Gabriel

    They really don’t want to bring this to court. The current supreme court is of the opinion that almost any speach is protected. The statement of not flying a flag would absolutly be protected political speech.

  • Raven

    One more comment because I am reading the comments section of the linked article… the volume of ‘thumbs down’ to perfectly innocuous comments is making my stomach churn. And the vitriol of the christians is appalling. I feel myself getting angry… deeply deeply angry… I guess I am finally one of those “angry atheists” those hypocritical christians always yammer about.

  • Trace

    I noticed that too, Raven.

    Maybe his injunction should just preclude flying any flags other than the Christian flag. he may as well.

    Oh and the comment section, what is it with the guy advicing Hewett moving to SF. Sad, very sad.

  • Rich Samuels

    Hemant, when the inevitable happens and someone chops the damn thing down, and all the xians claim it was atheists, promise me you wont start a fund to get it put back up as a gesture of good will.

  • Trace

    @ Rich Samuels; ;)

  • Jon Peterson

    What astounds me most is the blissful willingness of those commenters (and religious commenters across the internet) to address anything posted by anyone who is not in absolute agreement with them as a vitriolic attack against their person… and then proceed to lash out, often with the very vitriol they claim was carried by the original comment.

    They hate us because they want to hate us, not necessarily because we give them cause… and therein lies the most difficult and terrifying obstacle to global acceptance and equality.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com/ gloomcookie613

    You forgot the bit where Cynthia got screwed over because a group of jerk Christians decided to be cute and hoist a Christian flag on a portable flag pole during the week honouring her father.

    From this article:

    Two weeks ago, Cynthia Becker of King flew no flag, Christian or otherwise, at the memorial the week of June 7. She requested that no flag be flown to honor her father, Theodore Becker, who served in the Navy from 1959 to 1962. She said no flag would represent everyone’s beliefs, including her father’s.

    Becker said she was unhappy when a group of King residents flew a Christian flag temporarily at the site.

    “That was a disrespectful thing to do,” Becker said. “I expected nothing less.”

    That article also addresses what Hewitt is up to at the moment; he has more than one lottery win so he’s been going back and forth on what he plans to do on upcoming dates.

  • Lee

    I just want to correct a statement that it is a private memorial on Public land. This is something the christians of king want people to believe. Here is the link on the city of King’s website. Regarding the funding to this. Their were $90,000.00 collected in private funds. But the project cost was $290,000.00. Which means $200,000.00 of the money was of taxpayers to build this public memorial.http://www.ci.king.nc.us/index.asp?Type=B_EV&SEC={99C7D1B1-E53D-435F-B754-33E60E417052}&DE={32D969BA-2484-41E3-B83E-6F19AA4F21A9}

  • Bill

    Is there an atheist flag like there is an atheist marker? I don’t know if these folks are atheists or not, but that would be really rich. For a list of VA approved headstone markers, see here: http://www.cem.va.gov/hm/hmemb.asp

  • Raven

    @Rich Samuels LOL! Thank you! Good humour restored by that :)

  • http://www.jewelisms.com Jewel

    Yep, that sounds just like the place I grew up (Winston-Salem)…though W-S has at least come a little ways since then. King…not so much, apparently. I’m glad that some people are choosing to fly no flag at all.

    The folks that decided to fly a Christian flag on a temporary pole the week that Becker chose no flag are jerks. Very disrespectful.

  • Paul Parkinson

    Wuldn’t it be fun if someone chose to fly the Rainbow Flag? I suspect it’s not “recognised by the military” though so it’s probably a non-starter.

    What about a Muslim flag though? Islam is a recognised religion in the US Military…

    That’d tweak the nose of the religious right wouldn’t it?

  • Claudia

    Unlike manger scenes, where overwhelming the site with all sorts of odd deities, a memorial is trickier. Not only are there a limited number of symbols that are acceptable, since you are dealing with people’s dead relatives you are well advised not to joke around.

    If anyone is curious, the list of acceptable emblems (at least for cemeteries) is here. It’s pretty broad. Though I like the idea of no flag best, I’m guessing a week or two with the Wicca symbol would get people reconsidering the matter fairly quickly, since obviously their nonexistent respect for the Constitution doesn’t.

  • Cynthia

    As one of those that chose not to fly a flag, the reason is simple. I believe in the Separation of Church and State, as well as, the 1st Amendment, Freedom of and from religion. To fly a Muslim, Wicca… flag would make me a hypocrite and prove I was just making a political statement.

    Please check-out this link. The memorial itself cost $290,000, $90,000 of that was private funding. It is currently maintained at 100% taxpayer expense; therefore, this is not nor has it ever been a private memorial.
    http://www.ci.king.nc.us/index.asp?Type=B_EV&SEC={99C7D1B1-E53D-435F-B754-33E60E417052}&DE={32D969BA-2484-41E3-B83E-6F19AA4F21A9}

  • ORAXX

    I have suspected for some time that many in the conservative Christian community spend so much time talking to each other, that they really have no idea how unpopular many of their ideas are.

  • Trace

    Thanks Claudia.

    I did not know they accepted Humanist and Atheist emblems.

    I think the Crescent, on Sept. 11, as originally planed by Hewett, would be the most effective (yet controversial) way to test the religious tolerance being touted by the likes of Mr. James.

    I respect his decision though, not to fly any flags, as a more elegant and respectful way to honor all who serve/have served in the Military.

  • bLaKouT

    Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. This is why we live in a Constitutional Republic which protects the rights of the minority and not a ‘Democracy’, which is really a form of colllectivism.

  • GregFromCos

    It’s too bad no one has submitted a Pastafarian symbol yet. I’m not sure how they could deny it. Who are they to say whether its a real religion or not.

  • Steve

    @Trace

    Here is a cool site with real pictures of many different symbols at Arlington:
    http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/11/11/powerful-monuments-to-service/

    Includes a humanist, a wiccan, an atheist, and a non-believer

  • NotYou007

    I didn’t even know the Chrisitans had a flag.

  • Richard Bass

    I’m tempted to stop following FA because I’m getting a bit tired of being wound up by these people every day. I cannot believe people this ignorant and narrow minded actually exist, and how brainwashed they are into thinking they are doing the right thing or “Gods Will”!

    Of course I wont actually stop following this site, it is an important part of an ever increasing movement that the planet needs to go through. I just wish there was a quick way to suddenly make these people stand up and see they are hurting so many people, offending/excluding/oppressing everyone who opposes their archaic beliefs.

    It took me less than a week to unravel religion through watching documentaries, reading websites, books, thinking about it and discussing it with others. These people must surely be afraid of the truth, or just too blinded to see it? Religion is evil and it genuinely scares me how evil it makes people. Most of your articles highlight that evil at its worst which is why it makes me so uncomfortable reading them sometimes.

    I just wish there was something I could do to convince a load of people to consider they might actually be wrong, they might actually be hurting millions of people with their uncanny beliefs. But every time I get into a discussion with someone they wheel out the same tired logic that a blind man could see through. I’m at a loose end with it all really, and the fact I’m in the UK makes it worse because your work is helping in America where things are a bit more extreme. Over here there isn’t much happening so its just the norm for religion to be thrown in peoples faces.

    Ah well, keep up the good work. I hope this flag thing gets resolved the right way and not the easy “appease the majority” farcicle way.

  • Trace

    Thanks Steve. I like the non-adherent best.

  • Tracey Becker Meszaros

    Just to answer some point brought up in these comments. We are able to fly a rainbow colored flag as long as it has the approved religious symbol on it. You can do a white or rainbow backround. Also, the reason Steven Hewitt and Cynthia (my sis) chose to fly no flag instead of Muslim, atheist or other religious flag is b/c our whole point in this is that no religious symbols should be flown on public taxpayer land. Flying another religious symbol would have defeated our point (of course it has been somewhat defeated anyway since the ‘christians’ are flying the flag at the park anyway)

  • Steven Hewett

    Hello everyone, thank you for your comments in support of keeping a religious symbol off a publicly owned Veterans Memorial. I have three more weeks after this and no flag will fly during those weeks either.

    It is refreshing to see and hear others supporting my issue. Even though I am not alone in the issue, I do speak for many other who are too scared of these “Christians” in town. Some own businesses and others work and fear they would be fired if they spoke up. Since I am retired from the federal government, my income is secure so I speak for those who cannot.

    It is a sad day in America when a free people cannot speak their mind because the fear a group of people harassing them.

  • Vanessa

    Curse you for linking to the article’s comments!

  • Sunny Day

    The Dead all belong to the same religion.

  • DicePlayGod

    What? There’s actually a Christian flag? They sure wouldn’t have allowed it at the fundamentalist church I grew up in. Sounds like Modernists …

    Seriously, does anyone know what all those other flags represent? (I do recognize the US flag, of course.)

  • Raven

    Thank you Steven Hewett!

  • JulietEcho

    I remember doing some sort of pledge to the Christian flag (yep, it looked exactly as pictured) in Sunday School every week growing up. It was also featured in the church sanctuary.

    I think the decision to fly no flag is excellent, for all the reasons already stated by David and Cynthia. Would flying a Muslim or Wiccan flag make a more obvious, in-your-face point to the complaining Christians in the town? Yes, but – as has been pointed out – it would be part of the same problem.

    I could get behind a pole flying flags for each of the accepted symbols that have been linked to – something that recognized the diversity of beliefs in America and among its military personnel.

  • http://zyx.posterous.com Roger3

    @DicePlayGod:

    The other flags are the flags of the Services – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force.

  • Christophe Thill

    What’s a “Christian flag” ? Do religions have flags? The Vatican has a national flag, but why would the Christian religion (or group of religions), as such, have one? And what should be on it? The fish symbol? The heart of Jesus? It doesn’t have to be a cross.

  • Carlie

    I remember doing some sort of pledge to the Christian flag (yep, it looked exactly as pictured) in Sunday School every week growing up. It was also featured in the church sanctuary.

    “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag,
    and to God’s Kingdom for which it stands,
    One brotherhood,
    Uniting all Christians in service and in love.”

    Jeez, I still remember it. Every day in VBS, every year, all through childhood. We’d do the pledge to the American flag, the pledge to the Christian flag, and the pledge to the Bible (“I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s holy word, and will make it a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path, and will hide its words in my heart, that I might not sin against God.”)

  • WishinItWas

    I thought a cross was determined to NOT be a symbol of religion?

  • Tom Bourque

    The pentagram is a recognized symbol for military graves now. Someone should run that up the flag pole and see how the christians like it.

  • ACN

    Jeez, I still remember it. Every day in VBS, every year, all through childhood. We’d do the pledge to the American flag, the pledge to the Christian flag, and the pledge to the Bible (“I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s holy word, and will make it a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path, and will hide its words in my heart, that I might not sin against God.”)

    We did this at VBS also.

    I am sometimes disgusted with my parents as a result.

  • Stogoe

    WishinItWas, only Fredo ‘inappropriate gesture’ Scalia and Clarence ‘dozens of plaintiffs bribed me through my wife for at least 10 years’ Thomas actually believe that.

    I’d be tempted to fly the jolly roger if I won the flag lottery, however I’m not very reverent, so it’s probably good that it’s not up to me.

  • Heidi

    Thank you, Steven and Cynthia. Perhaps if they force you to put a flag in the future, you could put a blank one?

  • JulietEcho

    @ Carlie & ACN

    Wow, I remember the Bible pledge too, now that you mention it. Not surprising, but still very creepy to have children memorizing and repeating any kind of pledge, IMO.

  • Tez

    I lived in King for 7 years. Being from ‘The North’ I was not well received. Being an atheist is worse – that place is turbo-Christian. I’m glad to be outta there…

    • Sam

      we are glad your gone!

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