The residents of a small Mississippi town have been left infuriated after their mayor was forced to lower a Christian flag after an atheist group threatened a $500,000 lawsuit.
On Saturday residents of the close-knit, deeply Christian town of Rienzi met in the Veterans Memorial Park to complain that the flag that was once flown there had been lowered at the demand of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
‘This is a Christian community here,’ Kevin Nelms told the crowd, according to WCBI. ‘You take one down, we’re going to put several back up. I promise you that. That’s just the way we do things here in the South.’
Protest: Townsfolk of Rienzi, Mississippi, gathered at the Veterans Memorial on Saturday to complain after their mayor agreed to lower a Christian flag there due to a lawsuit threat
Flags: The Christian flag is seen in this photo at the memorial, along with a US and army flag. The Freedom from Religion Foundation said this broke church-and-state separation laws
The town had originally flown a Christian flag – a white flag with a red cross in a blue square in the top-left corner – at the memorial park, along with a US flag and one representing the military.
But the Christian flag was replaced with one representing the town – population 300 – after the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the town’s mayor, Walter Williams, telling him to lower it.
‘It wasn’t because I wanted to, but it was because I didn’t want to go no further of putting the town in jeopardy over me making a decision,’ Williams said.
Leader: Protest leader Kevin Nelms said he wanted ‘several’ Christian flags put up in response. Just one person had complained about the flag, the Foundation admitted
‘They told me that a lawsuit could be filed on their behalf against me if I did not comply.’
That lawsuit – based on separation of church and state laws – could hit the town for half-a-million dollars, he said.
More than a hundred people gathered at the memorial, located next to the Town Hall, to voice their displeasure at the move on Saturday.
When asked if anyone there objected to the flag being raised again, no one raised their hand – so Williams promised to make sure it was once more hoisted above the memorial.
Exactly how the town will tackle the issue hasn’t yet been made public, Williams told News Channel 3, but he said he has contacted a lawyer to discuss options.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) submitted its threat after a ‘concerned resident’ of the town contacted them, according to a post on its Facebook page.
‘FFRF contends that Rienzi, a small town in Northern Mississippi, needs to remove the Christian flag in order to avoid unconstitutionally endorsing religion,’ it said.
It continued: ‘FFRF is committed to defending the rights of religious minorities and the nonreligious when governments insist on promoting religion in their memorial displays.
‘FFRF notes that it can be quite costly for a government to ignore its obligations under the Establishment Clause.
‘There are countless ways to recognize the sacrifice of our veterans and military members without endorsing one religion over all others in violation of the Constitution, FFRF emphasizes.
‘The more than 23 percent of military personnel who either express no religious preference or are atheists should not be made to feel excluded, like “outsiders, not full members of the political community,” because the city of Rienzi chooses to endorse Christianity in its memorial garden.’
The Christian flag was designed in New York in 1907 to represent all forms of Christianity, as opposed to the various denominational flags that exist.
Protest leader Kevin Nelms actions should inspire a new generation to stand up and defend the faith. If we passively continue to stand by and watch Christianity be degraded and assaulted daily as it is now then our faith will die with us.
Make a stand and join us