Information from WYSH Radio
The first legal challenge to the signs bearing the inscription “In God We Trust” over the entrances to the Anderson County Courthouse came on Wednesday but not from any organization. Instead, it came from a man charged with attempted first-degree murder. Kenneth Darrin Fisher, 22, of Clinton is accused of the attempted first-degree murder of his wife and illegal possession of an assault rifle, and his case is due to go trial next spring.
Through attorney David Stuart, Fisher filed a motion in Anderson County Criminal Court on Wednesday seeking to dismiss all charges against him, asserting that the signs violate his freedom of worship rights under the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. The motion states that Fisher is a blood member of the Cherokee Nation and a follower of “a Red Road” faith.
Calling the signs, one of which was installed Monday night and unveiled Tuesday morning, a “religious display” prohibited by both constitutions, Fisher asserts that they “reflect an endorsement by the government of a particularized and fundamentalist view of Christianity.” The motion also states that during Tuesday’s dedication and unveiling ceremony, the speakers, all of whom were of the Baptist faith, conveyed a fundamentalist Christian message that Fisher claims “[effectively] converted the [Courthouse] into a place of worship and recruitment and rendered it a temple of fundamentalist Christianity,” including comments from at least one speaker indicating that the inscriptions were being installed in part as a message to accused persons required to appear in court.
The motion also states that the message that was conveyed was that anyone who does not agree with the speakers on “matters of religion is going to hell.” Fisher, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, says that he is offended by the “Constitutional affront” presented by the signs and objects to “being reminded that they have judged him as being destined to go to hell every time he passes through one of the entryways to the courthouse.”
The lawsuit seeks dismissal of the charges, as Stuart writes “there is no other effective remedy for the violation of constitutional rights…For example if [the court were to order] the permanent removal of the signs, it will become more difficult or impossible to impanel a fair and impartial jury for his trial.” Stuart writes that temporarily removing the signs or covering them would have a similar detrimental impact, and that Fisher is “entitled to have his trial in the Courthouse, untainted by unconstitutional religious displays.”
District Attorney General Dave Clark is reviewing the motion and preparing a response.
The other three signs are expected to be installed sometime today (Thursday). The project was paid for using more than $4,800 in donations from private citizens and approved by the County Commission earlier this year after lengthy and sometimes contentious debate.
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