Watauga School District Will Accept Non-Theist Posters, but Principals Don’t Have to Display Them

A Humanist group in North Carolina has offered a matching donation to the public schools in Watauga County: posters that remind the pupils of the historical Treaty of Tripoli, which states, courtesy of founding father John Adams,

The United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

The “matching” aspect is in the fact that the same schools recently accepted posters proclaiming “In God We Trust,” provided by a chapter of the American Legion.

Late last week, in a brief phone call, Marshall Ashcraft, the district’s Director of Public Information, told Cash Wilson, VP of the Western North Carolina Humanists, that the district will accept their Tripoli-poster offer.

Sounds good, right? But Wilson just got it confirmed that principals in the Watauga district will be under zero obligation or pressure from district official to actually display any of the posters.

This is what Ashcraft wrote Wilson this morning:

It is our expectation that principals will put up the posters donated by the American Legion and principals do not need to request them. We do not have the same expectation for the posters containing the excerpt from the Treaty of Tripoli.  State law specifically permits the display of the national motto in schools. Displaying a quote from the Treaty of Tripoli is permitted because it is from a historical document, but this quote does not enjoy the same status as the national motto.

We remain willing to accept the posters you have offered, as stated to you in our phone call last week, and principals will be made aware that these materials have been donated and are available for their schools. However, we cannot promise that they will be used. The use of donated materials is a case-by-case decision and we do not provide follow up information about their use.

I hope I’m wrong, but it’s not a great mystery which posters will probably be displayed, and which ones will be gathering dust in a dark closet somewhere.

WNCH does have a pretty good trump card up its sleeve: the very law that allows North Carolina schools to display the “In God We Trust” posters. The state’s General Statute 115C-81(g)(3a) specifically mentions the writings and documents of the founding fathers, and states,

Local boards, superintendents, principals, and supervisors shall not allow content-based censorship of American history in the public schools of this State.

Wilson has pointed this out to Ashcraft and says that legal action is likely if the schools choose not to treat the non-theist posters the same as they do the American Legion placards.

More as this story develops.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.