Sullivan Commission to address application process for courthouse plaques
By JOHN OSBORNE
BLOUNTVILLE - The Sullivan County Commission is set to consider an application process for citizens who want to post their favorite "historic" document alongside the Ten Commandments. Commissioners Mike Gonce and Mark Vance indicate on their resolution to approve the application process that they will call for a vote on first reading.
County Attorney Dan Street said Friday that he had reviewed the resolution and application form. "Only one area concerned me," Street said. "And that is where it says only the applications of residents of Sullivan County will be reviewed. I was a little bit concerned about that. I expressed my concern to Commissioner Gonce and told him I just don't have time to research that. It's a pretty deep question. I think it's reasonable. I don't think you're out there in left field on it, but to say that it is constitutional, I don't know."
The proposed application requires all documents submitted must: have a "national historic significance as recognized by the general public;" "manifest America's heritage;" and "stimulate the moral welfare and domestic tranquillity of the citizenry."
All plaques must also meet the following criteria: be professionally designed and manufactured; meet applicable codes; be "cosmetically" attractive; and be of a design and size to meet a specifically designed area. Street said all the requirements and criteria duplicate wording in the original resolution permitting placement of "historical documents" in county buildings.
That resolution, passed unanimously by the County Commission in September 1998, led to the posting last month of a plaque featuring the Ten Commandments. "There were a couple of areas in there that Gonce had kind of summarized, but I changed it back pretty much word-for-word," Street said. "I was afraid to change any of it."
Street last month suggested commissioners develop an application process after a Bluff City resident requested courthouse space to post the "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom" penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1786. "When he did that I predicted they wouldn't do anything on it," Street said. "That they would just let it go in one ear and out the other."
Failure to provide a process by which other documents may be submitted for consideration - and indeed giving each consideration - would violate the constitutional rights of individuals who wish to make such requests, Street said. "You can't deny somebody the ability to redress their grievances - that's a constitutional right. If you don't provide these people with a way to come up and present proposals for other documents to be hung in the county, then you're exposing yourself to a challenge that you are violating their procedural rights."
The Sullivan County Commission meets Monday at 9 a.m. on the second floor of the Old County Courthouse on Main Street. Public comment is listed on Monday's agenda immediately after the roll is called.
Published January 15, 2000
Quoting the Kingsport Times-News (1-18-2004)
"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.