Man on Trial in Tennessee Asks for Dismissal After County Adds ‘In God We Trust’ to Courthouse

Image courtesy of wbir.com

A man from Clinton, TN on trial for attempting to kill his wife has filed a motion to dismiss charges after the Anderson County courthouse he is being tried in erected a religious sign over the building’s entrance.  The black granite plaque with gold leaf lettering was placed on the building during a ceremony involving at least five Christian speakers and warning of eternal damnation for those not following the message.  Despite a heated debate over the winter, the county agreed to affix the privately donated plaque to the courthouse.

Kenneth Darrin Fisher, the defendant whose trial is scheduled for March, filed the motion because he’s of Cherokee decent and the addition of the religious message combined with the overwhelmingly Christian dedication has converted the courthouse into “a temple of fundamentalist Christianity,” which violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  According to Fisher, his heritage has led him to follow the red road, a Native American spiritual teaching focused on taking the right path in life.

Interestingly enough, county officials were warned of possible backlash but seemed to go ahead with the fundamentalist ceremony despite the advice of legal counsel.  Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager had advised the county commission before the dedication that if only Christian prayers were offered, the fact “could compromise or produce unwarranted legal challenges at the expense of our taxpayers.”

It appears local officials are going to claim ignorance, as Mayor Terry Frank has already tried to distance himself, saying that the ceremony was “citizen organized,” and the county was not involved.

Last I checked (ok I didn’t but I don’t think I need to), no courthouse in the US would allow citizens to put up a plaque on the building without local officials being involved with it.  Sometimes it does happen, and it’s called vandalism.  Regardless of who knew what, who supported what, and who is washing their hands of it, the defendant in this case brings up a good question:

Is it a violation of the Establishment Clause to try a person who does not believe in the Christian God in a courthouse that represents itself as such, with an ‘In God We Trust’ plaque or worse, a representation of the Ten Commandments on the property?  It just may be.  Does it warrant dismissing the charges against the accused?  I think not.  If anything, I would suggest one of two solutions:  remove the religious symbology from public buildings or move the trial to a courthouse devoid of such symbols.

The motion to dismiss charges has not been decided upon yet, as District Attorney Dave Clark is still reviewing it.  It’s easy to see that a verdict of “motion granted” would spur fundamentalist outrage about a “war on religion,” but if you take a step back you can see that the purpose of adding these signs to the courthouse is nothing more than a preemptive attack on secularism.  I suggest that the $4800+ raised to create these plaques would have been better spent feeding the hungry than decorating a building.  I guess since I’m not a Christian, I don’t know much about that.

About Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, and the author of Understanding an Atheist: A Practical Guide to Relating to Nonbelievers, a book aimed at improving relationships between the religious and their atheist loved ones. Kevin is also the Executive Director of Young Skeptics, an elementary-level after-school program for kids focused on critical thinking. Guest bloggers are welcome at SecularVoices. Please email submissions to contact@secularvoices.org.

  • https://www.facebook.com/gael.r.murphy Gael R Murphy

    I wish more plaintiffs from other non-christian religions would contest the problem of encroaching Christian theocracy. When only atheists register complaints, Christians always spout that, “Freedon of not from religion, stuff”. At this rate, soon we will have neither!