Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes placed the Ten Commandments on display in the county’s courthouse Monday, reports WBIR-TV, after becoming the 25th sheriff in Tennessee to request copies of the commandments – along with copies of the Constitution and the bill of rights — from conservative activist June Griffin of Dayton. Griffin donates the framed display in order to circumvent any argument that taxpayer dollars have been utilized to purchase the religious document. The 25 requests from various sheriffs started in March of this year. That is when Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a law that permits cities and counties to display the Ten Commandments as a historical document alongside other historical documents.
Unlike many other counties, Cocke County never had to remove the Ten Commandments from its courthouse. In fact, this is the first time the religious document has ever been displayed there.
“To my knowledge, they [the Ten Commandments] have never been anywhere in the courthouse,” said Fontes. “The separation of church and state is to keep the government from interfering and coercing people into one specific belief. Simply posting something does not coerce someone into one specific belief.”
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — The city of Jonesborough is considering utilizing a law that allows public buildings to display “historically significant documents,” such as the Ten Commandments.
The Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/KB1zKp) reports that Washington County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution on Monday that authorizes the county to form a committee that would design and recommend the documents for possible display in the George P. Jaynes Justice Center.
The law allows documents to be displayed in the form of statues, monuments, memorials, tablets or in any other way that in the words of the legislation “respects the dignity and solemnity of such documents.”
Besides the Ten Commandments, other possible documents include the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has stated counties that act with a predominate purpose of advancing religion in placing a monument or plaques that includes the Ten Commandments would violate the Constitution.
County Attorney John Rambo said the resolution was not about the placement of the Ten Commandments, and that a letter he wrote to commissioners earlier this month was aimed at explaining legal interpretations and possible constitutional ramifications for doing so.
“The government activity in establishing a historical documents display for county courthouses is allowed only if it has a secular purpose; it must not have a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, or foster an excessive entanglement with religion,” Rambo wrote.
The Ten Commandments, which were taken off display at the Monroe County Courthouse seven years ago, are coming back, reports WBIR-TV. The removal came after the Supreme Court ruled in a McCreary County, Kentucky case that such acts endorsed religion. Monroe County Mayor Tim Yates has decided to put the documents back on display due to a new state law Governor Bill Haslam signed in April. The legislation made it legal for the 10 Commandments to be placed in public so long as they were presented in a historical context, alongside other historical documents.
Yates said Monroe County will put the Ten Commandments next to other documents like the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.
“What we’re doing is displaying these as historical documents,” Yates said.
He said the commandments will be placed on the wall next to his office on the courthouse’s first floor. He said they will likely unveil all of the documents by the end of next week.
While some Monroe County residents said they were excited to hear the Ten Commandments would return, not everyone was happy. The Wisconsin-based group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation [FFRF], said the new state law violates the constitution and that the Ten Commandments are not a historical document.
Hawkins County Sessions Judge James “Jay” Taylor “took the Fifth” once again Monday in response to several charges filed against him by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR), reports the Kingsport Times-News. On Feb. 13, the BPR filed five charges against Taylor — four of which pertain to allegations of theft against clients in his private practice.
The other charge pertains to allegations of “misappropriation” of monetary donations gathered by Taylor for the purpose of installing a display of historic documents at the new Hawkins County Justice Center lobby, including a Ten Commandments plaque.
On Monday, Taylor filed his response to those charges stating he “has been advised by counsel to assert and invoke, and hereby does respectfully assert and invoke his privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
A hearing will now be scheduled, and Taylor faces disciplinary action from the BPR ranging from public censure to disbarment.
The BPR charges are separate from four charges filed against Taylor in January by the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary (COJ), which polices sitting judges.
Taylor is scheduled to stand trial in Rogersville April 25 on the COJ charges accusing him of stealing from a client, filing fraudulent payment claims with the state, and misappropriating contributions intended for the Justice Center lobby display.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would allow public buildings to display such “historically significant documents” as the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was unanimously approved 30-0 by the Senate on Monday evening. The companion bill unanimously passed the House 93-0 last week.
The proposal would allow the documents to be displayed in the form of statues, monuments, memorials, tablets or in any other way that in the words of the legislation “respects the dignity and solemnity of such documents.”
The Senate approved a bill Monday evening that deals with teaching of evolution and other scientific theories while the House approved legislation authorizing cities and counties to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings.
The Senate voted 24-8 for HB368, which sponsor Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, says will provide guidelines for teachers answering student questions about evolution, global warming and other scientific subjects… Critics call it a “monkey bill” that promotes creationism in classrooms.
The bill was approved in the House last year but now must return to that body for concurrence on a Senate amendment that made generally minor changes. One, says the law applies to scientific theories that are the subject of “debate and disputation” — a phrase replacing the word “controversial” in the House version.’
The measure also guarantees that teachers will not be subject to discipline for engaging students in discussion of questions they raise, though Watson said the idea is to provide guidelines so that teachers will bring the discussion back to the subjects authorized for teaching in the curriculum approved by the state Board of Education.
All eight no votes came from Democrats, some of whom raised questions about the bill during brief debate.
Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville, said he was concerned that the measure was put forward “not for scientific reasons but for political reasons.” And Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said teachers were doing just fine teaching science without the Legislature’s involvement.
“We are simply dredging up the problems of the past with this bill and that will affect our teachers in the future,” Berke said.
Watson said the purpose of the legislation is to encourage teachers in helping their students learn to challenge and debate ideas to “improve their thinking skills.”
The bill authorizing display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings (HB2658) is sponsored by Rep. Mathew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who said it is in line with court rulings. In essence, courts have often declared displays of the biblical commandments unconstitutional standing along, but permissible as part of a display of “historic documents.”
The bill authorizes all local governments to display “historic documents” and specifically lists the commandments as being included.
Hill said the bill will prevent city and county governments from “being intimidated any further by special interest groups” opposed to display of the Ten Commandments.It passed 93-0 and now goes to the Senate.
Legislation that critics see as a means of promoting creationism in classrooms was revived last week after a year of dormancy while a so-called “don’t say gay” bill suffered a setback that some supporters say is only temporary.
Having drawn national media attention, those two bills are perhaps the best-known and most controversial measures in a broad agenda of social conservative causes pushed by Republican legislators.
But they are not necessarily the most significant among the multiple bills with religious, moral and social overtones.
The bill on teaching of scientific theories in Tennessee schools – dubbed “the monkey bill” by the National Center for Science Education – passed the House last year. House Sponsor Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said it was to promote “critical thinking” about scientific theories by protecting teachers from discipline when they engage students in discussion about prevailing scientific theories such as evolution or global warming.
Legislation authorizing Tennessee city and county governments to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings has been introduced by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.
The bill (SB2641) includes the Ten Commandments as appropriate for display in city and county buildings and property along with the U.S. Constitution, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence as and other documents “recognized to commemorate freedom and the rich history of Tennessee and the United States of America.”
Last year, the House approved a resolution – which has no legal effect – urging all Tennessee counties to display the Ten Commandments. That measure (HR107), sponsored by Watson, says that 88 of Tennessee’s 95 counties “have already adopted resolutions acknowledging the historical significance of the Ten Commandments and pledging to defend their right to display them.” Note: Andy Sher has a thorough report on the bill, HERE. Some excerpts: Bell said Friday he thinks “it’s important that our local government buildings and our local legislative bodies know they have the right to post those documents.”
He said displays that include the Ten Commandments should withstand legal challenges in a state where several counties, including Hamilton, have been directed by federal courts to remove stand-alone Ten Commandments displays.
…Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said he thinks such moves are constitutionally suspect.
…Suzanna Sherry, a Vanderbilt University School of Law professor and expert on constitutional law, said the legality of such displays “depends on exactly the context” in which governments act to install them.
“This is a really difficult question, and the Supreme Court has visited it and visited it a number of times,” Sherry added.
She said justices have examined “what were the circumstances under which it was posted. What were the likely motivations of those who posted it? … What was the message that both was intended to be sent and received … by those who viewed it?”