Proposed courthouse display called 'unconstitutional'

Proposed Hawkins County courthouse display called 'unconstitutional'

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By MONA NAIR
6 News Reporter

ROGERSVILLE (WATE) - A Hawkins County judge wants to have a "Foundations of American Law and Government" display put up at the justice center that opened in January, but there's controversy.

The suggested plan is to put up several framed historic documents and the Ten Commandments up on a bare wall in the building.

The other documents are: the Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, Star Spangled Banner, National Motto, Preamble to the Tennessee Constitution, Bill of Rights, Picture of Lady Justice, Benjamin Franklin's epitaph, George Washington's inaugural address and prayer at Valley Forge, National Pledge, Tennessee House Resolution 0815 and Tennessee Senate Resolution 0158.

Judge James Taylor has pictures of what the display would look like on his website.

"I was traveling to different courthouses in the area and I noticed most courthouses have an American Heritage display. I realized Hawkins County did not have one. We've been clear from the beginning that the purpose of the display is not to promote religion, but to explain the role religion played in the founding of this country," said Judge Taylor.

But a Wisconsin based group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the County Commissioners. The group's Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says they feel the display is unconstitutional.

"It's clear he's trying to use the monument to promote his personal views on religion," said Gaylor.

In the letter, they point out specific examples, like how the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are much larger than the rest of the page.

"Admittedly, on the plaque, that font is larger than the rest of the plaque. But the core of the pledge is in that portion," said Judge Taylor, in response.

The letter points out that the Ten Commandments have no relation to the civic heritage of the United States.

"There is a Supreme Court decision to not put the Ten Commandments in courthouses," said Gaylor.

"The federal courts agree this type of display is not a violation of separation of church and state," said Judge Taylor.

The display is backed by some local churches like East Rogersville Baptist Church. They raised $1,500 to help get the display put up.

"It's really sad we have people who wrote the letter, and want to whitewash our society. We were founded as a Christian nation," said Pastor Steve Owenby.

"We feel like this is something that's supported by our community and our law allows it. We'd like to be left alone to put it up," said Judge Taylor.

The next step is for the county attorney to look into the matter and advice the county commission on if they are legally okay to vote on the display.

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