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

Sullivan's Ten Commandments display unchallenged so far

By J.H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE - It's been nearly seven months since the United States Supreme Court ruled against indoor displays of the Ten Commandments in two courthouses in Kentucky.

So far, no one has used that ruling to openly challenge a similar display at the Sullivan County Courthouse, County Attorney Dan Street said Friday.

Earlier in the day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) asked a federal court to permanently remove a Ten Commandments plaque from another Tennessee county courthouse, according to a statement issued by Nashville-based ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.

The ACLU-TN is asking the court for a permanent injunction against a display in Rutherford County.

"The posting of the Ten Commandments sends the message that only certain believers can receive justice at the courthouse. Rutherford County residents should not be made to feel like second-class citizens because they do not hold the prevailing religious beliefs promoted by the county government," Weinberg said. "The posting of the Ten Commandments in the Rutherford County Courthouse broadcasts a divisive message to the religiously pluralistic community of Rutherford County."

According to the ACLU-TN statement:

  • The ACLU-TN filed the court documents in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, that ruled a similar "historical documents" display violated religious freedom rights.
  • In June 2002, a U.S. district court judge granted a preliminary injunction in ACLU-TN v. Rutherford County, ruling that the Ten Commandments plaque hanging with "The Foundation of American Law and Government" display in the Rutherford County Courthouse must be taken down pending a trial. ACLU-TN plaintiffs then asked the court to issue a permanent injunction.

At the request of the county, the court stayed all proceedings in the case, pending the outcome of the McCreary County case; in June 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the McCreary County display was unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause to the First Amendment.

A lawyer working for the ACLU-TN says the Rutherford County display and the legislative history at issue in the ACLU-TN-sponsored litigation are similar to the facts in McCreary County - and that both McCreary County and Rutherford County had openly religious purposes in originally posting the Ten Commandments, and later tried to conceal their unconstitutional actions.

"ACLU v. Rutherford County is governed by the ruling in McCreary County, and the display should be struck down as a violation of the First Amendment. After careful study, it is clear that the Supreme Court's decision last summer in the McCreary County case confirms that the decision in the Rutherford County case three years ago was and remains squarely the law," said ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney George Barrett.

The display at the Sullivan County Courthouse was installed a few years ago, paid for by private donations, and in addition to the Ten Commandments features the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights - thus the concept of a "historical documents" setting.

Street has said, personal feelings aside, he thinks the local display closely matches the type of displays declared unconstitutional by the nation's high court.

After that ruling, County Mayor Richard Venable said any action concerning the local display would have to be instigated by the County Commission.

That group voted to allow the display and therefore would have to vote to take it down or relocate it, Venable said.

After lower courts ruled similarly, some county commissioners took the position of "wait and see if anyone challenges."

To date, Street said Friday, no one has formally challenged the local display.

"In Rutherford County it is a display of historical documents, and of course that's what Sullivan County's is - and that's what the Sixth Circuit case was, the Kentucky case," Street said. "It was a historical display that was struck down."

But the courts have not ruled against all displays of the Ten Commandments, Street said.

"The courts are not saying you can't post them," Street said. "You can post them under the proper circumstances and situations. But they're saying those proper situations are not being found. What they're finding is the facts indicate basically the Ten Commandments are being posted with all these other documents posted around them in an effort to protect it."

Weinberg said the ACLU-TN brought the lawsuit against the Rutherford County display to ensure that individuals have the right to decide for themselves whether to practice a particular religious faith or to post the Ten Commandments in their homes, businesses or places of worship.

"Were government to prohibit these postings, ACLU-TN would fight to protect citizens' right to promote their religious beliefs and practice their religious faiths," Weinberg said. "That is what we are here for."

Published: January 14, 2006 Copyright 2006 Kingsport Times-News.

Fundamentalists have lost already

Re: Sullivan's Ten Commandments display unchallenged, so far, the fundamentalists have lost whether the plaque goes or stays. Proof is the fact that many others challenge them in this space. Mr. Street can make excuses, but the public record is clear; in their efforts to silence me, they proved the plaque was designed to intimidate others.

I gave them a way out by simply agreeing that all faiths have equal access; they shot themselves in the foot. The ACLU thanks them. They made a mockery of God. Claiming the purpose of the plaque is secular is insulting to God and violates His very commandment against false witness. Promoting a religion from public office to intimidate citizens is a direct violation of the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.

Roger Clites (Dec 11) claims, " the Constitution ...was not to be applied to actions of individuals ... (and) ... does not apply to the states." From section 1 of the 14th Amendment: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the U.S. nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." It does apply to you, Mr. Clites.

During the plaque dedication, Carletta Sims and I were threatened with arrest and barred from the courthouse. I met some of the participants after the ceremony, including a minister who in no manner was some hate-filled, fundamentalist fanatic, and we were shocked at how much we had in common. I believe he is more typical of many Christians. Leave the plaque where it is, along with Halloween, Happy Holidays, Harry Potter, evolution, and Merry Christmas. All are part of American culture, all correctness be damned.

Lewis Loflin
Bristol, Va.

Printed January 25, 2006 Kingsport Times-News.

Purpose of the Constitution

The original purpose of the Constitution was to restrain the federal government. It was not to be applied to actions of individuals.

No passage in the basic document outlawed actions by individuals, although courts have occasionally assumed that some do. An amendment which prohibited manufacture, sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages was passed for the purpose of curtailing activities of individuals, but it led to disaster and was repealed.

Similarly, the Constitution does not apply to the states. The 10th Amendment says that the only powers that the federal government has are those delegated to it. All others were retained by the states or by individuals.

The founding fathers feared a powerful government, so they tried to make it as weak and inefficient as possible. A government that is powerful enough to give you everything that you want is powerful enough to take away everything you have.

Regulation of actions by individuals is to be done by laws passed by Congress or, in most cases, by state legislatures. It is not the purpose of the federal Constitution.

Roger M. Clites Johnson City

Copyright 2005 Kingsport Times-News.

Webmaster comment: I have to take exception to the above idiot as an example of how these fundamentalists think. One myth they employ is only the first ten amendments in the Bill of Rights are legal, while the others are not. I will quote section 1 of the 14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Yes Mr. Clites, it does apply.

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.