Even after the city attorney told them it was a violation of church/state separation, the city council of little Cochran, Georgia, population 5,100, voted last week to fly the "Christian flag" over its City Hall. And the city manager tells us it's still flying there now.
A local resident alerted us to the situation, concerned that the story wasn't getting wider attention. WMAZ, a television station in Macon, which is about 40 miles north, wrote a brief piece about the city council's decision, but our informant told us that the flag was also flying at the Bleckley County Courthouse and other public places.
We called Cochran City Manager Richard Newbern to ask him if the story was true.
"The council voted last Tuesday, on April 14, to fly the Christian flag at City Hall," Newbern told us. "In the past it has been flown from time to time at City Hall."
But this time, he says, after the council voted to raise the flag, Newbern thought he better get an opinion from the city attorney.
"The attorney advised that the flag not be flown at City Hall," he says, and it was taken down. But then the city council voted 5-1 to put it back up, and it's been flying on a pole outside the building ever since.
Newbern explained that the flag was raised in anticipation of the local "Bible Reading Marathon," which is sponsored by the International Bible Reading Association and was first held in Cochran in 2003. The event lasts seven days on the steps of the county courthouse, with the Christian flag flying. According to the Bible Reading Marathon's Facebook page, the setup at the county courthouse is put together by a member of the county staff...
The Facebook page also features a photo of the flag flying at the county courthouse...
And at Cochran City Hall...
The idea for a Christian flag dates back to a speech given at Coney Island in 1897, when a Sunday school superintendent needed to come up with something to say when a scheduled speaker failed to show up. According to the Society of the Christian Flag, in 1908 a pledge was added by a Methodist minister: "I pledge Allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Saviour for whose kingdom it stands, one brotherhood uniting all mankind in service and love."
And of course there's nothing wrong with places of worship and private homes flying a flag that's meant to express unity between various Christian sects and denominations.
But flying it on public buildings is a pretty blatant violation of the First Amendment, as the city's attorney tried to warn the city council. And with the flag also flying on businesses and homes in Cochran, it must feel to a non-believer that the town has been taken over by a local theocracy.
Even the local Dairy Queen has been co-opted...
We asked Newbern if he's received any complaints from local residents about the flag flying at the public building. "No, I haven't received any complaints."