A town in North Carolina has agreed to remove a public sculpture depicting a soldier kneeling before a cross after a lawsuit claimed that the artwork violated the separation of church and state. In a twist, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of a military veteran who objected to the public display of religion.
The sculpture has been on view since 2010 at a veterans memorial park in King, N.C., according to court documents released by the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed the suit in 2012.
Documents show that in settling the case, King agreed to remove the sculpture. In addition, the town's insurer will pay $500,000 to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State to cover legal fees and costs. A nominal $1 in damages will also be paid to the plaintiff.
The plaintiff, Steven Hewett, was a staff sergeant in the Army and served in Afghanistan. In a statement issued in November and printed in the Christian News, Hewett said King "should be honoring everyone who served our country, not using their service as an excuse to promote a single religion."
King has denied it violated laws regarding the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution.
"Mr. Hewett and the city wish to avoid incurring further costs of litigation, and seek to resolve all matters in controversy, disputes, and causes of action between them in an amicable fashion," the settlement papers said.
A news release from the city said the City Council preferred not to settle the case but nonetheless approved the settlement on Jan. 6. The city, population 6,906, said that it had already incurred legal costs in excess of $50,000 to defend the case, and that litigation costs were expected to reach $2 million without any guarantee of a favorable verdict.
Representatives for the city weren't immediately available for comment.
As part of the settlement, King has also agreed not to fly a Christian flag at the memorial park. The Christian flag typically features a cross in its upper-left corner and is intended to represent various Christian faiths.
Gregory Lipper, a lawyer for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in an email that the terms of the settlement limit what he can say about the case.
However, he said that that the settlement also requires the city to continue complying with a 2014 court order limiting its ability to promote Christianity at memorial ceremonies.