Ten Commandments display
Sullivan County Courthouse
Sullivan County Commission OKs wording of plaque request form,
advocate hopes there are no 'weasel words'
Times-News Online Edition - LOCAL NEWS
BLOUNTVILLE - "I hope these aren't just weasel words," Gary Melvin told Sullivan County commissioners Monday. The Bluff City resident was talking about wording on an application "For Placement of Historical Document(s) in Sullivan County Building(s)." Commissioners approved the application form Monday, opening the courthouse doors to people like Melvin - who wants to hang a plaque on the courthouse walls.
Requests for courthouse display space began in late 1998 after the commission agreed to permit placement of a "historic documents" plaque featuring the Ten Commandments. Melvin says he believes his suggested document - Virginia's Statute for Religious Freedom - should be found acceptable using requirements and criteria listed on the application form.
Those state all documents must: Have a national historic significance as recognized by the general public. Manifest America's heritage. Stimulate the moral welfare and domestic tranquillity of the citizenry. "These requirements are sort of too vague," Melvin said. "But I'll go with it. I think I proved (the 1786 statute by Jefferson) meets the three requirements." Melvin brought with him Monday a history textbook he said is used in Sullivan County's high schools. "It's been recognized by the general public because it is being taught in the public school system," Melvin said.
The application indicates requests should include a sketch of the proposed plaque. "I appreciate them trying to do procedure on this," Melvin said. "But - attach a sketch? Did (the Southern Baptist Association) have to go through all this? I don't know that they're not using weasel words to try to deny anybody a chance to put another plaque up." The Sullivan Baptist Association coordinated the fund-raising effort for the plaque featuring the Ten Commandments.
Lewis Loflin, a Bristol, VA., resident who last year threatened legal action to gain equal access for a courthouse display, also attended Monday's meeting. Loflin, of the World Union of Deists of Bristol, complained about a non-resident clause in the resolution authorizing the application. "This 'Sullivan County resident' crap is clearly aimed at me," Loflin said. "My question is why weren't these standards in place when the Baptists wanted their plaque?"
"A lot of the funding, backing, and money for the plaque came from outside Sullivan County. And the Sullivan Baptist Association is not a citizen of Sullivan County. They are an organization. Basically, my position is the laws of the United States don't end because you are in the neighboring county," Loflin said. "That's something they seem to think happens."
Completed applications should be submitted to the office of Sullivan County Executive Gil Hodges on the second floor of the Old County Courthouse on Main Street.
Published January 18, 2000
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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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