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N.C. town sued over sculpture of soldier with cross agrees to remove it

By Danielle Haynes
N.C. town sued over sculpture of soldier with cross agrees to remove it
The town of King, N.C., voted to remove a statue of a soldier kneeling at a cross after a veteran complained it promoted Christianity. Photo courtesy of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

KING, N.C., Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The town of King, N.C., agreed to remove a public statue of a soldier praying near a cross after a veteran filed a lawsuit complaining it promoted Christianity.

U.S. Army veteran and former police officer Steven Hewett filed the lawsuit two years ago protesting the public display of religion at a veterans memorial park. The statue was erected in 2010.

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The King City Council voted 3-2 on Jan. 6 to remove the statue because the legal battle exceeded the city's insurance policy limits.

"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," according to the settlement.

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The city's insurer agreed to pay $500,000 to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State -- which represented Hewett -- to cover legal costs, plus $1 in damages to Hewett. Additionally, the city agreed not to fly a Christian flag at the park.

"I proudly served alongside a diverse group of soldiers with a variety of different religious beliefs," Hewitt said in a news release in November. "The City of King should be honoring everyone who served our country, not using their service as an excuse to promote a single religion."

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Some residents of King -- including City Council members -- were disappointed in the decision.

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"This country was born, came up on freedom of religion or freedom of speech," Jack Westmoreland, a veteran, told WGHP-TV, High Point, N.C. "Well, one person has taken that away from us."

City Councilman Charles Allen voted in support of removing the statue, but said he only did so to protect the city's financial interests.

"I can't put that financial burden on the city. I'm not voting my conscience but on financial sense," he said.

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A group protesting the decision gathered at the park to kneel in front of crosses in place of the one that was taken down.

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