Ten Commandments display
Sullivan County Courthouse
County Not to Sue Deist
BLOUNTVILLE - Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street said Thursday that he has decided to recommend that the County Commission not file a libel and slander suit against Bristol Virginia deist Lewis Loflin.
The County Commission voted June 21 to have Street study the matter and make a recommendation at its July 19 meeting. Commissioner Mike Gonce of Indian Springs made the motion - approved in a voice vote with no nays - after saying that Loflin slandered and libeled commissioners by, among other things, indicating that they were against all religions except for the Baptist faith.
"My initial impression is at this point in time I wouldn't recommend they do anything," Street said. "I've looked over it. It's one of those things, it really doesn't jump out and smack you in the face as a case you would obviously win. It's also not a definite no."
However, Street said that Loflin has clearly criticized commissioners and the attorney did not rule out changing his recommendation upon further study or further actions by Loflin, who has said he may sue the County Commission for allowing the Ten Commandments to be posted in the old County Courthouse.
"I don't think these individuals (commissioners) when they volunteer their time ... should be expected to expose themselves to assaults on their character," Street said. "He's (Loflin) gone way beyond civilized debate, that's for sure."
But former Sullivan County resident Loflin disagreed and said he considered the idea of a lawsuit against him a "threat" designed to silence him and keep others from speaking out against commission actions.
"My position is simple. I have never slandered anybody on the commission individually. I have never slandered anybody," Loflin said. "Political commentary is legal in this country."
Loflin has used the public comment period of commission meetings and web pages on the Internet to criticize the commission and individual commissioners for approving a plaque of the Ten Commandments, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. During the June 21 meeting, Loflin said he would sue the county for allowing the commandments if other religions were not recognized.
The Sullivan Baptist Association raised more than $4,000 for the plaque, which will be installed on an inside wall near the main entrance of the old County Court-house.
As leader of the Tennessee/Virginia chapter of the World Union of Deists, Loflin has proposed that commissioners allow a plaque honoring John Scopes, the Dayton, TN., teacher tried in 1925 for teaching evolution as fact. He was convicted, but that was later overturned. Loflin said deists believe in a supreme being or creator, but do not believe Jesus was divine or that the Bible is the word of God.
"I certainly think we should follow his (Street's) recommendation," said Gonce, who sponsored the resolution allowing the plaque. "I think it puts people on warning they can't say or do anything they please that is not factual and truthful. Hopefully, people will be more guarded with what they say."
Gonce said June 21 that the second page of a flier that Loflin passed out to commissioners that day "slanders Sullivan County" and contained statements that are "false and lies."
The flier accused commissioners of being followers of minister Jerry Falwell
who have "declared war on the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United
States. They have decided to abuse their public office to make Jerry Falwell and
his intolerant Baptist agenda the law in Sullivan County.
They will be hanging the Ten Commandments in the Sullivan County Courthouse to prove who owns the Mountain Empire. They want Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Hindus, Atheists, feminists, gays or anyone that thinks for themselves or has tolerance for others to get out! If these fundamentalists want a war, they will get one! No more words!"
The flier also lists a web page on the Internet, which includes negative representations of Gonce and other county officials. Loflin has also criticized the county for cracking down on adult-oriented establishments.
Copyright 7/9/99 Bristol Herald Courier
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Quoting the Kingsport Times-News (1-18-2004)
Sullivan County Tennessee attorney Dan Street on the Ten Commandments,
"It seems clearer and clearer and clearer that we are promoting a particular religion, and that's a violation of the Constitution. The Constitution is the one document that protects minorities, and just because most people feel the Christian faith or the Jewish faith is the right faith, that doesn't mean they have a right to impose it on everyone else.
Plenty of Christians and Jews who may follow the Ten Commandments, but don't believe they should be displayed in public buildings. Most of the time, however, those people don't come forward with their opinion because they are afraid of being chastised. People think if you want the Ten Commandments down you're an atheist, and that's just not true.
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