They’ve already approved a proposal to put “In God We Trust” on the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton, and county commissioners this evening will consider a committee’s recommendation to install the national motto on black metal signs above the courthouse’s four entrances.
The Anderson County Operations Committee endorsed the signs in a 5-3 vote last week. They would have white lettering that says “In God We Trust,” and they are expected to cost $500 or less.
The County Commission agreed to put the motto on the courthouse in a 12-4 vote last month, but members asked the Operations Committee and Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager to review legal, liability, and design issues. The committee has now referred the specific sign proposal back to the full commission.
Yeager said he thinks displaying the national motto on a county government building will be constitutional if it doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and commissioners follow proper procedures and safeguards.
The signs have to be for a secular purpose, Yeager said during last week’s Operations Committee meeting.
But Operations Committee Chair Robin Biloski, who is also vice chair of the county commission, has voted against the proposal. She has expressed concern about possible lawsuits.
“This was very religiously motivated,” Biloski said.
Jerry Creasey and Whitey Hitchcock, two other county commissioners who also represent Oak Ridge districts, said the motto should be put into a broader historical context, and the county should consider placing other slogans on the courthouse.
“There is a problem when you mix government and religion,” Hitchcock said. “This is not the way to run government. Let’s stick with the slogans of the United States of America.”
Some objected to the process, calling it flawed and rushed, and Oak Ridge resident Lee Roy Gilliam said the displays would be discriminatory unless the county allows other signs to be put up.
But those who support the signs said their traditional rights and beliefs have been “whittled away.”
“We’ve seen a perpetual clawing away of our rights and beliefs,” said Anderson County Commission Parliamentarian Dusty Irwin, whose district includes Norris and Andersonville.
Supporters used philosophical and democratic arguments to argue in favor of the signs.
“Laws cannot exist without God,” said Valerie Marcum. “We might as well have ‘In God We Trust’ on the courthouse.”
“This is the people’s courthouse,” said Philip Warfield of Andersonville. “Worst-case scenario, let the people decide what should be on the courthouse.”
Some cited references to God and scriptures in a veterans’ memorial at the courthouse, and others said the motto is constitutional.
“That specific motto does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendement,” said Anderson County Commissioner Steve Mead, who also represents an Oak Ridge district.
The Establishment Clause says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
One man, Anthony Allen, said it might be okay for Anderson County commissioners to “soft-shoe this” and refer to a generic god, but the signs would not refer to a generic god.
“He is the God of the Christians,” Allen said.