‘In God We Trust’ draws leader’s ire

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By Damon Lawrence

Roane County Commissioners have some passionate feelings about the resolution that would put “In God We Trust” on the courthouse.

“That will make me feel less a part of our county government — because I’m atheist,” Commissioner Steve Kelley said.

“I don’t believe that there is a God.”

That prompted a quick response from Commissioner Fred Tedder.

“I don’t believe there’s such a thing as an atheist,” he said.

“Well, you’re looking at one,” Kelley responded.

“The Bible says you’re a fool,” Tedder shot back.

“Well, that’s what you believe,” Kelley replied.

Commissioner Randy Ellis submitted the “In God We Trust” resolution for the May 12 commission meeting.

After a lengthy debate last month, commissioners voted 8-7 to defer the resolution to the Property Committee, which took the matter up on Thursday.

Even though some people in the community may not be in favor of it, Commissioner Jerry Goddard said he supports putting the phrase on the county courthouse.

“Everybody don’t agree with the taxes we raise, but they put up with them,” he said. “Everybody don’t agree with everything we do, but they still live in the county. I think we ought to put the sign up.”

Election Day is Aug. 7. Ellis is in a tough re-election campaign in District 2, which has a field of nine candidates vying for three County Commission seats.

Some of Ellis’ colleagues have accused him of submitting the resolution for political gain.

“Of the people that have talked to me, half are probably for it and half are against it — but 100 percent of them are saying this is a political deal,” Commissioner Ron Berry said.

Some commissioners also said they believed Ellis was out of line by submitting the resolution for the May County Commission meeting without it first going before the property committee.

Tedder suggested some commissioners are trying to push a vote on the resolution past the election.

“The election doesn’t have anything to do with it, Mr. Tedder,” property committee Chairman Benny East said.

“It’s just not right that it was not brought into the property committee, and you know that.”

“That’s not the way I feel,” Tedder responded. “I can give my opinion, too.”

Even though Thursday’s meeting was publicized, it was attended by only two members of the public – Kingston resident Lorie Allion and Goddard’s wife Sherron.

“In God We Trust, who is ‘we’?” Allion asked.

“People who believe,” Commissioner Goddard responded.

“So you don’t speak for the other people?” Allion asked.

“No, I can’t,” Goddard replied. “Hopefully, one day they will believe.”

The committee voted to send the resolution back to the full commission, which next meets on July 14.

“I hate that we’ve been in office three years and eight or nine months, and now — all of a sudden, a month before the election — we’re going to be bringing up this issue,” Berry said.

Ellis said the resolution has nothing to do with the election.

“It’s not for the election,” he insisted. “I’ve said that before. It seems to me that they’re playing more politics with it than I’ve ever thought about.”

Kelley was the only member of the committee to vote against sending the resolution back to the commission.

“Why does it bother anybody that’s an atheist if you talk about God?” Tedder asked. “You don’t believe in Him, so why does it bother you?”

Kelley said it makes him feel like the government doesn’t respect his belief.

“That’s the way you see it,” Tedder said.

“That’s the way a lot of other people see it, too,” Kelley said.

“It’s not a lot,” Tedder responded. “It’s not a majority.”

Goddard and Commissioner Ray Cantrell pointed out that “In God We Trust” is on U.S. money.

“If somebody doesn’t want their money, they can give it to me,” Goddard said.

“Money is exchanged here (at the courthouse) everyday that’s got ‘In God We Trust’ on every bit of it,” Cantrell said.

In addition to the entrance of the courthouse, the resolution also calls for “In God We Trust” to be posted in the commission meeting room.

The committee didn’t vote on the design, size or material.

The commission room serves as General Sessions Court Judge Dennis Humphrey’s courtroom during the day.

Berry suggested county officials check with Humphrey before they post the phrase in the courtroom.

Ellis said the money to post “In God We Trust” will be raised through donations. No taxpayer money will be used, he said.

“I’ve got several churches that’s willing to step forward,” Ellis said. “They said give them a price, and they’re going to cover everything.”

Ellis, Berry and Cantrell are not members of the committee, but all three attended the meeting.

After the vote, Kelley asked the members of the committee to read a verse from Matthew, which sparked an exchange with Cantrell.

“Do you believe in Scripture?” Cantrell asked.

“I do not believe in God,” Kelley responded.

“Then you don’t believe His Word,” Cantrell said.

“I don’t believe it’s His Word, but somebody wrote it down,” Kelley said.

“Why would you quote it?” Cantrell asked. “Why would you ask us to read it?”

East moved the meeting along when the exchange started to escalate.