Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Court Rules On Various Establishment Clause Challenges To Veterans Memorial

Hewett v. City of King, (MD NC, July 8, 2014), is a challenge to various religious practices at the Veterans Memorial in a King, North Carolina park. The most controversial of the practices were: (1) the flying of a Christian flag along with ten other military, U.S., state and city flags. In a policy that changed over time, ultimately the Christian flag was flown 47 weeks a year on a pole that was designated a limited public forum. And (2) the placing of a stature of a soldier kneeling in front of a cross as part of the memorial. In a 110-page opinion, a North Carolina federal district court ruled that the question of whether these violated the Establishment Clause should proceed to trial on issues of disputed fact.

Plaintiff also objected to various memorial events held at the Veterans Memorial. The court concluded as a matter of law that the city's involvement in arranging and participating in events at which speakers deliver overtly Christian messages violated the Establishment Clause. However the appearance of the city's fire truck at these events, the granting of perpetual permits to host annual ceremonies, installation of pavers, the participation of the mayor in non-religious ways in memorial ceremonies and certain other activities did not amount to endorsement by the city or excessive entanglement. Americans United issued a press release announcing the decision.