Note: This story was last updated at 9:26 a.m. Feb. 20.
CLINTON—Despite some unanswered questions about design and legal liability, the Anderson County Commission voted 12-4 on Tuesday to put the national motto “In God We Trust” on the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton.
The vote came after more than an hour of discussion during a sometimes-raucous, standing-room-only meeting that, at times, resembled a church service.
Supporters of the proposal outnumbered opponents.
“We don’t want to impose our religion on anybody,” said Kelly Bates, an Anderson County resident and mother of Commissioner Zach Bates. “However, we think it’s unfair and unjust for our children to be robbed of our Christian heritage.”
Supporters cited the use of the phrase on U.S. money, on federal buildings in the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., and the frequent use of other phrases that reference God, including in the Pledge of Allegiance. They said the proposal was constitutional, and the motto was recently inscribed on the Putnam County Courthouse in Cookeville.
“I really don’t see why it should be that controversial,” said Mike Thompson, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Clinton. “To me, it’s not a matter of coercing anyone into believing in God. We do believe this is a part of our nation’s history and heritage.”
“It’s time to put God back into as many things as we possibly can,” said Gil Bates, Kelly Bates’ husband and Zach Bates’ father.
The proposal, which had been supported by 46 pastors at 46 churches and would not be supported by county funds, still needs further review by the county law director and the Anderson County Operations Committee on liability and legal issues and the specifics of design and placement. As proposed, it would be funded by donations from churches, businesses, and people, and it is expected to be considered again by County Commission in March.
“This is just a vote of confidence tonight that we’re going to do it,” said Anderson County Commissioner Robert McKamey, who made the motion to approve the proposal. It required a two-thirds vote since it hadn’t been considered by the Anderson County Operations Committee.
The four commissioners who voted against the proposal had concerns about legal liability, the lack of design specifics, and what they characterized as the last-minute submission of the proposal, which first gained widespread public attention last week. Commissioner Myron Iwanski said it should have gone to the Operations Committee first.
“I think we’re getting the cart before the horse,” Iwanski said. “We need to have a full discussion. I don’t think this is the time to do it.”
Iwanski voted against the proposal as presented to commission Tuesday. So did three other county commissioners from Oak Ridge districts: Whitey Hitchcock, Robin Biloski, and Jerry Creasey.
The other 12 commissioners voted in favor of it. They were McKamey, Bates, Tracy Wandell, John Shuey, Dusty Irwin, Tim Isbel, Chuck Fritts, Steve Mead, Mark Alderson, Steve Emert, Jerry White, and Rick Meredith.
Two Oak Ridge residents also opposed the proposal.
“I see it as an intrusion into government, and I think that should not be done,” Oak Ridge resident Ruth Young said.
“Government needs to be apart from any particular mention of God,” said Anne Garcia Garland, an Oak Ridge City Council member and leader at her church.
One opponent, who identified himself as Steve Chandler, said government and religion were unduly entwined for centuries in the Old Country.
“There was so much persecution and killing of people who did not believe the way the government wanted them to believe,” he said. The phrase “In God We Trust” is not inclusive, so it is discriminatory, he said.
In a 7-9 vote, Commission rejected a motion to first send the proposal to the Operations Committee.
The proposal was introduced with help from Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank, local businessman Lynn Byrge, and Tom Byrge, director of missions for Clinton Baptist Association.