While South Carolina's bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from its State House grounds gains momentum, another flag is stirring debate in neighboring North Carolina.
A church in Cleveland County made waves on Sunday when it displayed a Christian flag above the American flag outside its building.
The decision appears to have been made in response to the Supreme Court's June 26 ruling on same-sex marriage, as well as several recent court cases involving Christian business owners refusing services to gay couples.
Rit Varriale, pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church, where the flag debate began, said he hopes to send the message that God comes before the government.
"Stand up to the courts!" Varriale said in a rant on his website against the LGBT community. "The bravest thing Christians can do today is stand up to the Supreme Court of the United States and say, 'No!'"
The Christian flag originated in the early 20th century and was the brainchild of a New York Sunday school superintendent. Churches have struggled over the years with where to place the flag in relation to the American flag, Christianity Today wrote in 2008.
Tobin Grant of Religion News Service noted that the Varriale's move to place the flag above the American banner was not technically illegal but goes against "etiquette."
Title 4, Chapter 1 § 7 of the U.S. Code states:
No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy.
Government entities, however, run the risk of violating the separation of church and state if they fly a Christian flag. The city of Glencoe, Alabama, took down the banner from its police station in June after facing a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
In January, the veterans memorial in King, North Carolina, agreed to remove a Christian flag from its grounds as part of a lawsuit settlement with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a Tuesday interview with “Fox & Friends,” Varriale stood by his decision to fly the flag above the nation's banner.
“God is first,” he said. “If you’re a monotheist and you believe God is the highest authority then you have to stop when any human authority would try to get you to dishonor that commitment to God."
Fox host Elisabeth Hasselbeck challenged the pastor's claim, saying: “You know, as a Christian, I’m not sure anything should fly above the American flag. And I’m not sure God needs a flag.”
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