The city of Belen, which has already had a fight over the line between church and state with its nativity scene, could have another fight on its hands now that it has officially put a religious symbol on its flag.
The city councilor who helped design the flag says the star of Bethlehem is featured in the middle of the Zia symbol. It was approved as the city’s official flag this week.
“I love that because it just establishes our faith and a representation of hope,” said George Balderrama after seeing a sketch of the city’s new flag. “This is again a representation, I think, by this city to just make a statement that they choose to let God be the God of their city.”
“I think it’s awesome that we can do that in this country and I support it 100 percent,” added Robert Marquez.
It’s a point of pride for Belen, which is Spanish for “Bethlehem.”
However, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group that fights for the separation of church and state, says a flag with religious connotations doesn’t belong on city property and violates the Constitution.
“By putting a religious symbol on the city flag, they’re endorsing and promoting the religious views of that image,” said Chris Line with the FFRF.
This comes after the group threatened to sue Belen over its popular nativity scene in the city plaza for the same reasons in October 2015.
Nearly three years later, the nativity scene is still there as a permanent display.
The FFRF never took legal action, but says it could still happen.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be use but the city could be facing a religious lawsuit over this endorsement any time, and I think they’ve just made the claim of them endorsing even stronger by putting out this official city flag,” Line said.
Still, a lot of people think Belen is setting the right example with this stance.
“I think it’s something we could be lacking a little bit in this country – that we need to be bold for our faith and what we believe in and what we represent and what we stand for,” Marquez said.
The flag was chosen over a couple of other options: one had a nativity scene on it and the other had the Belen arch on it.
Belen also adopted an official motto: “City on the Move,” and an official nickname, “The Hub City,” for its railroad history.