Pastor Cites ‘Majority Rule’ in Favor of ‘In God We Trust’ Sign at Anderson County Courthouse

Earlier this year, at the request of Mayor Terry Frank, officials in Anderson County, Tennessee voted to put up a sign on the front of the county courthouse reading “In God We Trust”:

The Anderson County Courthouse, making God angrier every day his name isn’t on the property.

The ACLU argued that this sign could violate church/state separation and it’s hard to argue with that since it seems so obvious in this case. That didn’t stop Frank’s husband, Lee, from telling the press, “We don’t need to deal with that ACLU crap here.”

I bring all of this up because, on Tuesday morning, the “In God We Trust” plaque was unveiled over one of the entrances to the courthouse (another three signs are expected to go up by the end of the week):

One family — just one — sings to celebrate the new sign (via Oak Ridge Today)

“This is people standing up for what they believe in,” said Steve McDonald, pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Oak Ridge. “We have a right to the democratic process and majority rule.”

“Whether you agree with this or disagree with this, the democratic process took place,” said Tom Byrge, director of missions for Clinton Baptist Association. “The majority of the U.S. citizens will continue to believe, and will not be ashamed to say, ‘In God We Trust.’”

Who knew the Bill of Rights was subject to popular vote? (And if we’re playing that game, can we call a vote to repeal the Second Amendment after the next inevitable massacre?)

By the way, not a single story I’ve read about this plaque has quoted a single non-Christian in support of the sign or at the unveiling ceremony. You’d be hard-pressed to find any.

In fact, supporters of the plaque bent over backwards trying to explain how this was really inclusive of everyone and not just for Christians:

“If it said ‘In Jesus We Trust’ then someone would have a legitimate complaint that we were showing religious bias against some religion,” said Myra Mansfield, of Oak Ridge. “But it says ‘In God We Trust’ and that is inclusive of all religions.”

Supporters like [Anderson County resident Charles] Bivens believe the signs are exactly what is needed for the county and country to continue to prosper.

“We need God in it,” said Bivens. “We need a God thing. If we don’t have a God thing we’re going backwards. Amen.”

Inclusive of all religions. All of them! Islam, too? Interesting. I guess that also includes all those polytheistic religions… somehow.

This entire debacle just lends credibility to the idea that non-religious individuals won’t get a fair shake if they have to go to court. The judges didn’t have anything to do with the signs, but what else are you supposed to think when you walk into a building that says “In God We Trust” when you enter?

It really makes no sense when you consider why we even have courts in the first place: Judges and juries make (hopefully) objective rulings because God can’t do it Himself. You go to court because God isn’t there to settle the issues for us.

I guess we can always put an optimistic spin on this by saying the only reason Christian need godly signs at the courthouse is because they’re the ones more likely to end up in court. (Oh, snap!)

Incidentally, God may have been sending installation crews signs of disapproval when they tried to put up the plaque on Monday night:

There was a compressor that went on the blink, drill bits that wore out and a hydraulic hose malfunction on a rented scissors lift.

Take the hint, Christians. Take down the signs. God doesn’t love you more just because you put them up.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • ShoeUnited

    The blowback will be delicious when those signs get taken down. I like how they’re already preemptively acting like this sign was always here.

  • Charles Raymond Miller

    Today in irony: It was the Baptists that, among others, who clamored for separation of government and religion because they feared oppression by the majority.

    And in unintended consequences – The USA has not won a war since “In god We Trust” replaced “e pluribus unum”

  • shockwaver

    Am I the only one that gets a special sort of glee when projects like this have trouble getting off the ground due to “random events”? I don’t know how they are willing to say something is God’s will, and then discount when things hamper them.

    Or, even better when they blame a storm on God getting pissed at The Gays – but then praise god for not letting their church burn down when lightning (!!) strikes it. WTF – God is clearly angry at you and is smiting your churches!

  • Sqrat

    “Majority rule” or not, it seems to me that it’s going to be pretty hard to make a case that it’s unconstitutional to put the national motto on a courthouse lawn unless you have first established that it’s unconstitutional to make it the national motto and put it on the national currency. Unless, maybe, you’re trying to make your case under the state consitutution and not the US Constitution.

  • Charles Raymond Miller

    By making a fuss over this, the religious folks have clearly demonstrated that correction of the sign will serve a religious purpose and that fails the Lemon Test.

  • Sqrat

    You could make the same argument about the act of Congress establishing the national motto. In fact, I think you could make a much stronger argument. And yet there it is and remains, on the currency.

  • Brian

    I’ve said this before, if government wants to be all inclusive, they should change the phrase to “In gods we trust.” This way, it truly IS all inclusive, and when they refuse to do it, they will have to admit they are doing it because they think it should only apply to THEIR god.

  • C Peterson

    Yeah, majority rule. That works. Since the majority of the people in that third-world state believe blacks should be out picking cotton, perhaps they should legislate slavery back into existence, as well.

  • Brian

    Well technically, the last time we actually declared war was WW2, before the motto was changed, so we technically havent fought in any “Wars” since then. Technically.

  • Oranje

    Is “amen” like hitting the send button on a prayer or something? Or like “stop” in a telegraph? I’ve never much understood it.

  • Freak

    Sidetrack: Talk to daylightatheism about how to get a link at the “Read more” part.

  • Scott Romanowski

    “can we call a vote to repeal” // don’t focus on the 2nd Amendment; get a friend and vote to repeal the Fifth and take all the pastor’s property for public use without compensation. Two versus one — that’s a majority.

  • Holytape

    The sign originally read, “In God we trust. Well sort of. We really don’t trust him with any thing really important, stuff like fire protection and police protection, because we pay people to do those jobs. Or even with the minor details like watering the flowers, because again, we pay people to do these tasks instead of trusting an all-powerful God to accomplish these mundane jobs. And we don’t really trust God to prevent major disasters either, since we have in place numerous action plans to respond to disasters. And why would we plan for all of that, if we really trust God to keep us safe? So In God we trust, but not really.”

    However, the sign blocked the door and was considered a fire hazard. And since they really didn’t trust God to magically teleport them in and out of the building, they shortened the sign to read “In God, we trust.*”

  • curtcameron

    Yes, as long as IGWT is the national motto, I can’t see that we’ll have any success in having these signs taken down. How can you make a county take down a plaque with the national motto?

    On the other hand, someone needs to be keeping a file of all the justifications these politicians use when they put these up. The SCOTUS has said that IGWT doesn’t really refer to religion, it’s just ceremony. This is proven wrong every time the motto comes up – it’s always supported with “we need to put God first” kind of language.

  • Holytape

    If memory serves me correct, most of the court cases involving the motto and the currency have been rejected because of standing and not merit.

  • Buckley

    Well yeah, because majority rules. As my mother always used to say: “just because a group of people are doing it, doesn’t make it right.”

  • The Other Weirdo

    Because Satan, that other god Christians all believe in. All this surprises you when they claim to be monotheists and then worship two gods?

  • C Peterson

    Unless you live in Tennessee (or Kentucky, Texas, the Carolinas, etc).

  • The Other Weirdo

    Technically, they’re breaking commandments just by preparing for disasters because Jesus quite clearly said not to worry about tomorrow.

  • Gus Snarp

    Legally, I think you may be correct. The unfortunate decision by the courts that this phrase represents “ceremonial deism” and not religious endorsement makes it an uphill battle in court. But I wonder if we can just get all these people on the record saying it’s about their beliefs, if we can get that ruling overturned, or at least convince the courts it doesn’t apply here since they have clearly stated that it’s about their beliefs. It’s unlikely, but in the long term, if we’re ever to get “God” off our money, out of our schools in the form of the pledge, and out of our public buildings, the only chance we have is to build a record over time of public officials making it clear that it really is about deeply held religious belief so we can show that the “ceremonial deism” racket doesn’t hold water.

  • Gus Snarp

    And of course the sign is ugly and not in keeping with the design of the building. Not that that matters much, but come on. Too cheap to engrave it in the stone, wanting to be too obvious to be a smaller brass plaque that might fit in, it has to be garish and ugly so they can rub their religion in everyone’s face.

  • Gus Snarp

    It’s like they don’t even understand why we have a Constitution in the first place. If they want mob rule due to an ineffective constitution, Egypt stands as a good example of the results of that right now.

  • Sqrat

    It’s somewhat difficult to assert standing about the national motto per se because the law that establishes it is one that makes no provision for its violation and accordingly doesn’t provide for the possibility of anyone being convicted for violating it. If you can’t be convicted for violating it, you obviously can’t sue to have your conviction overturned.

    It might be slightly easier to assert standing in a case about printing the motto on the currency since the currency is printed at public expense — anyone who is a taxpayer could reasonably object to subsidizing having the motto printed on the currency. But you’d still have to demonstrate that you have been harmed by having it so printed.

  • Sqrat

    In 2011, the House of Representatives voted 396-9 to reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto. Sponsor Randy Forbes (R-Va.) stated that the resolution was necessary ““to firmly declare our trust in God, believing that it will sustain us for generations to come.”

  • Matt

    In god(s) or not, we trust.


  • Cat’s Staff

    It’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t have it when the U.S. House of Representatives has it [a href=""]over their dais[/a]. Just like it’s hard to argue that a city shouldn’t have prayers before city council meetings when the Senate spends [a href=""]hundreds of thousands a year[/a] on the Office of the Senate Chaplain for the purpose of giving the invocation (it’s more then the House spends on [a href=""]child care for four times as many employees[/a])…the problem starts at the top with the leadership.

  • Cat’s Staff

    Why do these comments not have a preview option‽

  • Amor DeCosmos
  • Sqrat

    The majority rule argument cuts both ways, of course. If you say that the reason that you can put up a sign on the courthouse lawn that says “In God We Trust” is because a majority approved of it, then you implicitly acknowledge that you could put up a sign on a courthouse lawn that said “We Trust in No God” if some future majority approves of THAT.

  • curtcameron

    IIRC, the FFRF has tried to use their status as taxpayers to fight against the White House’s faith-based initiatives, but were told that just being a taxpayer didn’t get them standing.

  • Gus Snarp

    I’ve been known to go over to Pharyngula, write my comment with HTML, hit preview, see if it works, then come back here to post it. Fortunately you can edit it to replace those brackets with <, >. But I find that embedding links in text has been troublesome in disqus even if you get the HTML right, so I don’t even try anymore and just paste the link inline instead.

  • Gus Snarp

    I just choose to believe that one day we’ll have a rational court, a different social make up, and statements like that on the record will wipe out the precedent. I have no idea how long that time scale is, but I believe it will happen. If we go the other direction, I’ll move to Sweden.

  • The Other Weirdo

    You don’t have it. All you to do is paste in the pure URL, You don’t need to wrap it in HTML. When you post, it’ll be wrapped for you.

  • Sqrat

    A quick search of the interwebs turned up the following information about that: “On 2007-JUN-25, and by the usual 5 to 4 vote, a deeply divided court ruled that individual taxpayers and their organizations cannot sue the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program of the federal government on the grounds that the latter violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, unless Congress had specifically authorized the programs that supply the funding. Initiatives by the president and his administration that are paid out of general administration funding sources cannot be challenged.”

    “In God We Trust” appears on the currency, not by the direction of the president, but by act of Congress (which is what the First Amendment specifically addresses):

    31 USC § 5114 “Engraving and printing currency and security documents …
    United States currency has the inscription ‘In God We Trust’ in a place the Secretary [of the Treasury] decides is appropriate.”

    Note that it’s not there because it’s the national motto, but because Congress directed that it be put there (and had done so long before it became the national motto).

  • Rich Wilson

    I think that applies more to pledge cases than motto cases. With the motto IGWT was declared “ceremonial deism”

  • WoodwindsRock

    “The majority of the U.S. citizens will continue to believe, and will not be ashamed to say, ‘In God We Trust.’”

    Oh, right. Because this is TOTALLY about their right to state that they trust in God. They always want to twist this around to be some strange right of their freedom of speech, but it’s nothing like that. “In God We Trust” is one of the worst options you could ever choose for a motto to represent a country, especially one that is supposed to be secular.

    I’m sick and tired of being told that I trust – or am supposed to, at least – in this God figure by this horribly out of place motto. I couldn’t care less if people want to say that they believe and trust in God, but that isn’t what this is about.

  • Sqrat

    I don’t “choose to believe” anything — I’m an atheist :) I get tired of the argument from theists that I could believe in the existence of God by a simple act of will.

  • newavocation

    Trust in what exactly? Tornados, fires, earthquakes? He doesn’t appear to have been very trustworthy in the past. Maybe a plea to ask god to finally be trustworthy would be a better banner.

  • Rich Wilson

    Which included

    Whereas if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured;

    I tried to get my Congressman (McClintock) to explain to me why religion and morality were tied in that clause, and whether he thought they could exist independently.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’m itching for a new t-shirt…

    I Don’t Trust Your God

  • Richard Wade

    Rewritten for clarity and unambiguity:

    In An Invisible, Inaudible, Intangible, Undetectable, Inaccessible, Conceptually Inconsistent And Apparently Indifferent Supernatural Entity We Trust. Anyone Who Doesn’t Is Not Welcome Here.

  • Sqrat

    The important thing about “In God We Trust” is its symbolic assertion that “We” (that is, Americans ) do this, and therefore if you don’t do it you’re not a “real American” — not “one of us”. According to the official policy of the government of the United States, you are defined as The Other, an alien presence in the land of your citizenship and probably even your birth.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I can’t wait for their argument of majority rules to come back to bite them in the ass. I have to wonder if they will feel the same way when America becomes a majority of either atheists or spiritualists, but not religious. Of course they then would clamor that because they are in the minority their rights must be protected.

  • Guest

    Fu– these Southern, delusional theocrats. They’d have the Constitution burned and Xian Sharia law put in place given half the chance. Makes me sick. And that’s one family? What a quiver full they have there. I wish John Belushi would come out of that door and smash those guitars on the wall. So sick of reading about Bible belt A$$holes pushing their religion on everyone else. Aaaaaaagh!

  • Mark W.

    I, personally, love the sweet, sweet irony of placing “In God we Trust” on a building where humans are passing judgement on other humans.

  • Guest

    That’s why gawd invented Sharpies.

  • VCP
  • Rain

    “If we don’t have a God thing we’re going backwards. Amen.”

    Amen backwards is “Nema”. (God backwards is “Dog”.)

  • Artor

    If I ever get a dog, I will have to name it Nema.

  • Artor

    That was profound!

  • David

    The majority of people want gay marriage, weed, and 18-year-old to drinking to be legal, but my guess is that majority doesn’t matter in those cases.

  • JA

    As soon as a Muslim puts down a prayer rug next to the sign and faces east and starts praying (Allah is Arabic for God after all), Christians will be up in arms and out for blood.

  • Sqrat

    The presence of the motto on the currency would be sufficient get around the “standing” problem. When Michael Newdow sued on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause, the court upheld his standing. Nevertheless, the 9th Circuit Court upheld its previous ruling from 1970 when it had declared, “It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.” This reasoning in the 1970 case appears to be entirely specious, but the 9th Circuit asserted that it was consistent with subsequent Supreme Court precedent and that it, the 9th Circuit, therefore had to accept its own earlier precedent.

    The 9th Circuit also asserted that, although Newdow had standing to challenge the appearance of “In God We Trust” on the currency, he didn’t have standing to challenge the national motto itself. It said that, but for the other congressional statues authorizing the appearance of the motto on the currency, “Newdow would lack the
    ‘unwelcome direct contact’ with the motto that gives rise to
    his injury-in-fact.”

    That being the case, it does seem to me that one could argue that the appearance of “In God We Trust” on a sign on a courthouse lawn constitutes “unwelcome direct contact” for passers-by and would at the very least constitute reasonable ground for granting such passers-by “standing” for the purpose of bringing a court case — but the court could then rule that “the national motto … has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion”!

  • ajginn

    Every day I wake up I thank Reason that I don’t live in the South.

  • Lori F

    That’s not just any family. That’s the Dugger’s – 19 kids and counting. Mama Michelle will be squeezing out babies as long as the Good Lord allows.
    All the kids are home schooled. I wonder how they would do in a real school and in college. So far, none have gone that far.

  • Rich Wilson

    The Andrea Yates case comes to mind.

  • Anna

    Actually, that’s the Bates family from Tennessee. They are friends of the Duggars and fellow fundamentalist Quiverfullers.

    Yes, I’m ashamed that I can tell the difference between the two, LOL.

  • EuropeanCommunist

    “In (No) God(s) We Trust” – there, fixed it for you Myra.

  • Cuttlefish

    There’s a group out of Bakersfield CA–”In God We Trust~America, Inc.”–whose stated goal is to put that motto “in every city, county, state chamber in America”. They do have Anderson County TN on their list of successes (


    I wonder how this pastor would feel if the majority in his community decided to outlaw his church. When rights become subject to majority rule, they cease to exist

  • jdm8

    That’s the thing, it doesn’t work the way he thinks. Majority rule doesn’t trump individual rights.

  • Tom

    I regard it more like “LOL” in an online chat.

  • Greg G.

    Majority rule! The majority of the US Constitutions in this country say you can’t put up such a sign.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    I sooo want to drive up there and put a different God in place of the word at each sign. Imagine the heart attack they’d have walking into a building that said “In Odin/Zeus/Hera/Allah We Trust”…

  • meekinheritance

    Good point. If it said “In Gods We Trust”, *that* would be more inclusive (though still excluding atheists).

  • NG

    Majority rule? Didn’t their mother ever tell them, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off too?”

  • Don Lodsky

    Am I only the only one who saw the words “Pastor” and “Anderson” and got excited only to be let down by the full title?

  • Kristin

    Sidenote, that’s not even all the Bates children. Two of them are missing from the picture.

    On another note, fuck that noise.

  • Whirlwitch

    There’s an excellent example of the consequences that trusting in God can have.

  • Whirlwitch

    If you get a second one, name it Gniht.

  • Robster

    Everyone who doesn’t trust this god fantasy is essentially a liar the moment they walk into the building.

  • Timothy R Alexander

    Can I take that? I want to put it on a T-Shirt

  • UWIR

    Or, say, pass a requirement that employers provide health coverage to employees.

  • UWIR

    I’m not sure I understand why you’re previewing it at Pharyngula. Are you checking to see whether the HTML is correct? If so, another option is to open Notepad, write your post in it, save the file with the html file extension, then open the file. Whether Disqus supports the relevant HTML, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

  • UWIR

    In the Pledge case, the majority decision said that “under God” serves the “secular” purpose of endorsing limits on government, when it is clearly does not mean that, and even if it did, “limited government” is not a “secular” purpose when the limit being proposed is that government must be in accordance with religion. Clearly, when it comes to religion, the judiciary is lousy with liars who will stop at nothing to defend injustice.

  • UWIR

    It seems to me that a strategy would be for an atheist organization to apply for funding as a “faith-based initiative”, and then sue when they are denied.

  • Gus Snarp

    I usually have Pharyngula open in another tab when I’m reading Friendly Atheist, and it has a nice preview function, so it’s convenient. Like I said, I don’t do it anymore, the problems only arise when trying to create a hyperlink from a word or phrase instead of just pasting the URL, so I just past the URL now.

  • allein

    On the up side, the one comment on that article is from a Catholic who actually gets it.

    Unfortunately, this shows a lack of respect for history of our town and for those who may not share in this sentiment. If a group of individuals would like to put up religious signs, this should not be done in government buildings. there are plenty of churches or private businesses where it would be appropriate – City Hall is not one of them.

  • Anon

    My answer was always ‘Yes, because we’re going bungee jumping’.

    My mother stopped using that shortly afterwards.

  • abb3w

    “True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true, that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.” — James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments”, 1785

    “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” — Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801

    “The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.” –Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816

  • abb3w

    Of course, that clamor was mostly before the schism between Baptists in North and South over slavery; the SBC seems to have been a bit less concerned with oppression of minorities by the majority ever since.

  • abb3w

    Even so, the “E Pluribus Unum” seems a curious coincidence.

  • SinginDiva721

    I too, am ashamed that I recognized them when I saw the picture. They’re almost as annoying as the Duggars. The only thing that makes the Duggars more annoying is the fact that they all have “J” names. But I can’t stop watching their show. I.just.cant. LOL

  • CoolHandLNC

    Anyone who really trusts in God doesn’t need to put it up on a wall, or on a piece of paper, or on a coin. They want to put up a sign because it is safe on the wall. Trusting in God is the most dangerous thing in the world. You cannot both trust in God and be afraid. True trust in God involves the courage to love unconditionally. It involves the courage to give of one’s self and one’s means up to the limit of God’s bounty and grace, that is, without limit, even to death. It involves the courage to stand up for the oppressed, care for the sick, visit the friendless, house the homeless, feed the hungry, without limit or concern for one’s self. Do that and I’ll buy it, but a sign is just bullshit and everyone knows it.

  • FOR

    In his book , Drunk with Blood, God’s killings in the Bible, Steve Wells counted God killing 2,821,364 people and Satan 10. On this basis alone, the sign should be removed. (Pending further investigation)

  • reynard61

    “If it said ‘In Jesus We Trust’ then someone would have a legitimate complaint that we were showing religious bias against some religion,” said Myra Mansfield, of Oak Ridge. “But it says ‘In God We Trust’ and that is inclusive of all religions.”

    I’d be more inclined to believe that if it *also* said “In Allah we Trust”, or “In Buddha we Trust”, or “In Celestia and Luna we Trust”. Also, which “God” are they putting their trust in? The Catholic God? The Methodist God? The Presbyterian God? The (Heaven forbid!) Mormon God? How about the Jewish G_D?

    Actually, this has more to do with Tribal Identification than with “God”. In essence, both the Mayor and the Pastor are telling the people of Oak Ridge, “We are The Tribe In Charge here. We are above the law and The U.S. Constitution. This is how we choose to express that. Fuck the rest of you.” And as long as the people of Oak Ridge keep (re-)Electing the members of that particular Tribe to run things, they’ll have to trust in God that The Tribe will act in their best interests. (Unfortunately tribes have a long history of acting only in the best interests of The Tribe, *not* the individual, so I don’t see this ending well for the people of Oak Ridge.)

  • reynard61

    IIRC, it means something like “So say we all.” “It shall be done.” in Ancient Hebrew; so, yeah, it’s like hitting the “Send” button.

  • Anna

    I’m really hoping some of the younger children escape. The older ones are well and truly indoctrinated, but it’s going to be impossible for the Duggars to keep all 19 in the fold. My bet is on Joy Anna and/or Josiah to leave first, and that will help pave the way for the rest of them.

  • ant-eye-christ

    my sentiments exactly. every time i hear the ‘majority rule’ argument to defend christian privilege i wish someone would say “so you must be okay with same-sex marriage then?”. then watch the back-peddling commence.

  • Christian

    Every knee will bow to the Lord Jesus Christ and I pray for you all who will spend eternity separated from everything good. Light, pleasure, happiness, relationship. Eternity! He is calling you. Listen.