Courtroom flag removal draws high interest
The Bryan County News’ article about the decision to remove a Christian flag in the courtroom at the Bryan County Courthouse after a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the flag’s presence violated the First Amendment drew lots of interest.
The story, posted Tuesday on the newspaper’s Facebook page, has garnered thousands of views and hundreds of comments both in support of and against the decision.
Here is a sampling:
“Are you kidding me … whoever complained needs to re-evaluate their life and stop doing whatever landed them in the courtroom in the first place …”
“If I file a complaint that it’s not there, would they put it back?”
“Maybe we should wear the Christian flag on our clothes? I would! They can take the flag out of the courtroom, but they can’t take it off our hearts.”
“Ironic that the Christian flag in a courthouse is troubling to some since the laws our judicial system is based on are from the Bible. Bryan County, don’t cave to these extremists!”
“I cannot believe that the people of Bryan County are going to sit by and do nothing about this.”
“Are there flags from other religions flying next to the Christian flag? The courtroom should stand for ALL religions or none.”
“Separation of church and state is the basis of our constitution and our country. No one religion should have precedence of another’s religion, or non-believers.”
“This thread is full of people who think their particular religion is OK to flaunt, but get upset when they see a hijab in their public school. You don’t get special privileges. Sorry.”
“As an atheist, I wouldn’t want to see this as I entered a courtroom. I’d think maybe the deck was already stacked against me.”
“Thank you, Bryan County, for doing what is right and keeping our government for ALL the people, not just the Christians.”
— Ted O’Neil
A Wisconsin-based organization is requesting that a Christian flag be removed from the courtroom in the Bryan County Courthouse.
Elizabeth Cavell, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote in a July 6 letter to Clerk of Courts Rebecca Crowe that, “The flag in the Bryan County Courthouse unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity,” and that, “It is unconstitutional for a government entity to display a flag with a patently religious symbol and meaning on its grounds.”
Cavell went on to write, “You must take immediate action and remove this flag from the courthouse,” and that, “The cross has an exclusionary effect, making non-Christian and non-believing residents of Bryan County political outsiders.”
Crowe said Tuesday morning that she referred the letter to Leamon Holliday, the county’s attorney, who in turn recommended the flag be removed to avoid potential litigation.
“We are reluctantly going to do that,” Crowe said.
Crowe later commented on the Bryan County News Facebook page, stating: “When I forwarded the letter to Mr. Holliday I advised him I was against this and if anyway possible I wished to keep the flag in the courtroom. Unfortunately, it’s unconstitutional to have this flag displayed in a government setting. As much as I am against it, I do not wish to cause the taxpayers unnecessary expense in litigation.”
Cavell’s letter, while it did not threaten Bryan County with legal action, cited several previous court decisions that found displaying the flag on public property “an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.”
The FFRF included pictures with its letter to Crowe showing the flag standing in a corner of the courtroom to the right of the judge’s bench.
The nondenominational flag, developed by Protestants in the early 20th century, features a white background with a red cross on a blue background in the upper left corner. The white is said to represent the purity of Jesus, the blue the waters of baptism and the red on the cross the blood Jesus shed on Calvary.
When contacted by phone Tuesday, Cavell said she is glad the problem was resolved quickly and that litigation is never the desired outcome.
“Our first hope is that the letter will be educational and the municipality will accept our reasoning,” she said.
Cavell said the matter was brought to the attention of the FFRF by a Bryan County resident, so the group would have had standing for a lawsuit if it had reached that point.
Cavell’s letter said the FFRF has 23,500 members, including 450 in Georgia.