Ten Commandments Plaque Sullivan County Tennessee
Ten Commandments display
Sullivan County Courthouse
Blountville, Tennessee

Removing Commandments plaque is right thing to do

Before the lawsuit comes - and it is only a matter of time - Sullivan County commissioners should remove a Ten Commandments plaque from the county courthouse in Blountville. Some seven years ago in this space we applauded officials in Washington County who pledged to keep a plaque containing the Ten Commandments on the front of the county courthouse at Jonesborough, despite the objections of a local atheist.

We argued that the plaque deserved to stay because, among other factors, it had been in place for more than 70 years and was an integral part of the historic character of the building. But that's not the case with the Sullivan County plaque, which was placed in 1998 to advance a particular religious view in what was, and is, a clear violation of the Establishment clause.

Then-Commissioner Mike Gonce, who introduced the measure, said his colleagues should "send a clear signal that Sullivan County doesn't lie down for atheists." Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled that motivation matters. Justices found an outdoor Texas display of the Decalogue, which was more than 40 years old, permissible, but said recently mounted indoor displays of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses had an overtly religious motive.

"The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion," Justice David Souter wrote for the majority. "When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates that central Establishment clause value of official religious neutrality," Souter said.

It is one thing to resist the removal of chiseled text from a public building - regardless of what it says - when it is an historic part of that building. Various religious quotes and images have adorned all manner of public buildings including the Supreme Court for decades, even centuries. But it is quite another to use the Ten Commandments, as some Sullivan County commissioners did in 1998, as a taunt to unbelievers or as a provocation to legal action.

In his professional capacity as Sullivan County Attorney, Dan Street has consistently counseled county commissioners that the plaque at the Blountville courthouse violates the U.S. Constitution and should be removed. He reiterated that warning this week in light of this latest Supreme Court ruling.

Commissioners should heed his expert advice. The commission's reticence to remove the plaque when it has yet to be challenged by anyone with the legal standing to do so is perhaps somewhat understandable. But given this week's ruling, keeping the plaque now borders on belligerence. All that's required now is one aggrieved person and the court system will take it from there, with taxpayers footing the bill.

Many commissioners - not to mention many of their constituents - may honestly wonder what all the fuss is about. But would they feel the same if they lived in a region where the predominant religion was Buddhism? Or Islam? What if a majority of the county commission were Muslims and voted to place the principal teachings of the prophet Mohammed on the courthouse walls?

Or what if they were Buddhists and passed a resolution to place a bronze image of Buddha in the county courthouse? Seven years ago, a previous commission surely knew in resolving that a plaque containing the Ten Commandments be placed in a government building that they were endorsing a particular religious philosophy and violating the spirit and letter of the law.

But they lacked the backbone to vote against it because they were apparently afraid they would be painted as somehow godless. The Sullivan County Commission can wait and vainly hope that no one files suit against the courthouse Ten Commandments display. The better and certainly more responsible course would be to remove the plaque now, not because of any external legal threat, but simply because it's the right thing to do.

June 28 2005 Kingsport Times-News

July 2, 2005. If there is any question as to why that plaque was installed, these two responses to the editorial will make it clear. By the way, how does one "remove God?

Free under God, not free from God

Your editorial June 29, "Removing Commandments Plaque Is Right Thing to Do," would have provided fuel for the ash heap of our forefathers. It has been clearly documented that we were founded as a Christian nation and that the separation of church and state was not the same thing as the separation of the state from the principles of Christendom. That fact was chiseled into the hallowed walls of our national landscape, not merely as an art form but as a religious symbol of who we are as a people.

On July 4, we celebrate our victory in a war over England. That war was fought over the principle that there is a law higher than man. Abuses of power by civil authorities that ignored historical interpretations of a nation's law called for a revolution in 1776. The abuses of England were mild compared to the abuses of our Supreme Court today. It is ironic that we still idolize our American revolutionary forefathers, many who died for these principles.

Our national holiday was set aside to celebrate the freedom of a body politic under the God of the Bible and not the freedom of a body politic from the God of the Bible.

Rev. Larry E. Ball

Removing God will doom nation

Re. "Removing Commandments Plaque Is Right Thing to Do," poppycock. This nation was founded on those commands. These commands are the reason this country still exists as a free democracy. To remove these commands in any way is to remove God. When we remove God from this country, this country is doomed.

Dan Hensley
Rogersville, TN

God's laws are the only laws

July 5, 2005

Here we go again: Another lawyer is offended by the Ten Commandments? the word of God. Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street, to learn the laws of man in your chosen vocation and to ignore God's laws is never good for an individual, state or nation.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison championed the Christian distinctive of soul liberty. Jefferson produced a piece of legislation known as the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty that would guarantee freedom of conscience for all.

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever; nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect the civil capacities." Later, James Madison re-entered Jefferson's bill and it was passed and signed by the speaker on Jan. 19, 1786.

Under the First Amendment, drafted by Madison; "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Society, including attorneys, is unable to give government authority over religion because religion is a matter between God and each individual. The structure of our nation is based upon the principles of the word of God, our lives are to be governed by God and the government was established to protect freedom of religion.

Mr. Street if you are offended by a sign on the courthouse, which belongs to God, you may have more to worry about than you think.

Bob Horne
Bristol, Va.

Back to Sullivan County Religious Wars

God protect me from your followers

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.