Note: This is a copy of letter Anderson County Commissioner Myron Iwanski sent to the county commission and county mayor on Monday.
As discussed at the March County Commission meeting, I ask that a compromise regarding placement of the “In God We Trust” sign on the courthouse be added to the agenda for the April 8 Operations Committee meeting and the April 15 County Commission meeting.
There are several important issues with the sign as approved at the February meeting:
- It caused divisiveness, pitting community against community and church against church, and even disagreement within churches.
- Ironically and sadly, this issue has caused a level of hatefulness in online blogs and in the public that I am sure community leaders, including the ministers asking for the sign, did not encourage or want to see happen.
- As pointed out by the county law director (after the meeting to vote on approving the sign), placing a sign for religious reasons increases our legal liability. Contrary to the intent of our rules, this issue was forced to an immediate vote—before receiving this legal advice. I believe anyone reviewing comments by commissioners and others at that meeting will conclude it was passed for religious rather than patriotic and historic reasons. If challenged in the courts, we will risk hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend this action.
I believe our role as leaders is not to divide the community but to try to bring citizens together to work toward consensus and solve problems. Valid points have been made by all sides of this issue, but I believe there is room for a compromise.
A compromise on this issue that I and others on County Commission have suggested is to place one of four different signs at each of the four entrances to the courthouse.
I recently spoke to a couple of the ministers who led the discussion in favor of the “In God We Trust” sign. I believe they and many others on both sides of this issue understand the need for compromise and agree with including other signs.
The four signs I suggest are:
- In God We Trust—a national motto and on our money;
- E pluribus unum (Out of Many, One)—the country’s first motto, which is currently on all coins and all the official U.S. seals;
- Liberty and Justice for All—part of our history, beginning with the revolutionary war, part of our Pledge of Allegiance and Constitution, and a very relevant statement for our courts and county government; and
- Agriculture and Commerce—the State of Tennessee motto.
This compromise allows for placing “In God We Trust” on the courthouse but does so in a historic and patriotic context—which as pointed out by our county law director significantly lowers our liability risk.