Thou shalt remove unconstitutional biblical verses, says FFRF to Tenn. courthouse

Henderson Versus

Biblical verses prominently posted at a Tennessee courthouse are unconstitutional, adjudges the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The national state/church watchdog has previously complained about two such verses at the Henderson County Courthouse. One verse reads: “Justice—Then shalt thou understand judgment. Proverbs 2:9.” Another verse reads: “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: Mercy and truth shall go before thy face. Psalms 89:14.” And now a third verse has been added. A public-facing paper sign reading “Blessed are the Peace Makers Matthew 5:9” is now taped to the side of a security or receptionist desk in the hallway.

The county display of these verses constitutes an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, FFRF declares.

“The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald writes to Henderson County Mayor Eddie Bray. “The Supreme Court has said time and again, that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

Like the Ten Commandments posting in county buildings in McCreary and the crèche display on county land in Allegheny, the biblical passages on display at the Henderson County Courthouse are unconstitutional because a reasonable observer would view them as an endorsement of religion by Henderson County, FFRF adds. The verses perpetuate the myth that our law is based on biblical principles, and send the message to private citizens with business at the courthouse that the justice they seek will be decided based on religion.

The Henderson County Courthouse serves all citizens regardless of belief or nonbelief, and with these displays, Henderson County appears to be preaching to citizens who are required to come to the courthouse. The verses alienate the 26 percent of adult Americans who are nonreligious (including nonreligious Henderson County residents) and express a preference for Judeo-Christian faith in a government building responsible for administering and upholding our laws. By endorsing a particular religion, the county “sends the … message to … nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

The religious verses must be removed from the Henderson County Courthouse, FFRF insists.

“Talk about sending a wrong message,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s a surefire case of the flaunting of majoritarian Christian privilege.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 400 members and a chapter in Tennessee. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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