CLINTON—Several setbacks put the project behind schedule on Monday, delaying the work for several hours, but by Monday evening, workers from a Knoxville company began installing the first of four black granite signs emblazoned with the national motto “In God We Trust” over the entrances at the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton.
Plans had called for completing the work by Monday night, but it wasn’t clear if that would be possible. Among the setbacks were rain, a traffic jam, a hydraulic hose that popped off a hydraulic lift, and a drill that ran into rebar in the rock-solid courthouse walls.
Still, those who supported the project—with the work being done by Island Home Granite, Signs, and Monuments of Knoxville—were pleased to see it was under way.
“I think it’s about time,” said Lynn Byrge, owner of Active Electric in Oak Ridge. He spearheaded the project by contacting area preachers starting this past December, and Byrge and seven other people formed a “In God We Trust” committee made up of private citizens that raised $4,812 for the signs through private donations.
Byrge and the citizens’ committee have planned a 10 a.m. Tuesday ceremony, a public unveiling for the signs that is expected to feature three to four speakers and the family of Anderson County Commissioner Zach Bates singing a patriotic song.
The Anderson County Commission approved the signs this spring after hours of discussion and five meetings.
On Monday, Buddy Mulkey, Island Home Granite owner, said the project includes two 7′ signs weighing about 180 pounds and two 5′, 4″ signs weighing about 120 pounds. The larger ones will be installed over the courthouse’s front doors on North Main Street and the smaller over the three-story building’s rear doors. The national motto is inscribed on the signs with 23-karat gold leaf lettering.
Mulkey and his two sons, Chris and Jeff, marked the holes to be drilled in the courthouse walls—described as a mix of concrete, marble, and rebar—with a yellow grease pencil. They planned to put in lead anchors and use epoxy on the bolts and on the back of the signs to attach them to the walls.
“I’m glad we’re getting it done,” Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank said.
Much of the debate among commissioners and residents earlier this year focused on whether the signs should be posted at all and whether other mottos such as “E pluribus unum” and “Liberty and Justice for All” should also be included. Some opponents wanted to keep a strict separation between church and state. However, the proposals to allow other mottos, including four “clearly secular” slogans, were repeatedly rejected.
Frank has said there is room on the courthouse and in its hallways for other slogans.
A few commissioners raised concerns earlier this year about possible legal liability. Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager has said he thinks displaying the national motto on a county government building will be constitutional as long as it doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and commissioners follow proper procedures and safeguards. Among other things, the signs have to be displayed for a secular purpose, can’t advance or inhibit religion, and can’t convey—to a reasonable viewer—a government endorsement of religion.
In March, Yeager said two groups have said they could challenge the signs, although he declined to name them.
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, which they described as honoring the nation’s heritage, was recently inscribed on the Putnam County Courthouse in Cookeville.
Note: This story was updated at 10:15 p.m.