A Christian flag in the courtroom at the Bryan County Courthouse has been removed, Clerk of Courts Rebecca Crowe confirmed Monday.
“It’s not in there any longer,” Crowe said. “I’m not sure who removed it or where it is, but it’s not there.”
No one claims to know where the flag is.
As the Bryan County News first reported, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Crowe on July 6 stating that the flag’s presence in the courtroom “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.”
The foundation’s letter also said, “You must take immediate action and remove this flag from the courthouse.”
The foundation said it was acting on behalf of a Bryan County resident who had contacted it about the flag.
Crowe referred the letter to Leamon Holliday, the county’s attorney, who said the flag should be removed to avoid potential litigation. Crowe said the flag would “reluctantly” be removed. It had been located behind the judges’ bench in the courtroom and the pole it is affixed to is topped by a cross. No one knows for sure how long the flag was in the courtroom. The courthouse was built in 1938.
Atlantic Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Robert L. Russell III would have made the decision to remove the flag. He is at a conference this week and unavailable for comment, according to his office.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder and co-president of the Wisconsin-based FFRF, thinks the flag’s presence for so many years could lead to appeals by defendants who have been convicted or sentenced in the courtroom.
“It could certainly open the door for a person to say a prejudice occurred,” she said. “A lot of it would depend on the transcripts and records.
“Cases could certainly be overturned if there was any discussion by jurors about a defendant’s beliefs or if a judge made an unobjective statement in that regard,” Gaylor said.
Gaylor said attorneys could also pursue action on behalf of clients if they believe they were the cause of any prejudice.
“Perhaps a lawyer who was Jewish or Muslim feels as though that hurt their client,” Gaylor said. “Even if was just based on their name.”
Gaylor added that the same could be true for Christians of certain denominations who may have felt they were treated unfairly because of the flag, mentioning Catholics in particular. The flag was created by Protestants in the early 20th century.