No religious phrasing in preamble, FFRF tells Tenn. county board

Sumner County TN preamble image

A Tennessee county board must remove blatantly sectarian religious language from its preamble, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting.

A concerned local resident has notified the state/church watchdog that on Oct. 17, the Sumner County Board of Commissioners voted to pass a preamble and rules declaring itself a commission based on “Judeo-Christian values,” despite the county’s legal director urging it not to. The preamble reads: 

“We, the Sumner County Board of Commissioners as the legislative branch of Sumner County, recognizes that all powers are reserved by the citizens of this county. In order to perfect the operation of our County government, to ensure that it is just, orderly, efficient, cost-effective and most importantly reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in our nation’s founding, as well as responsive and transparent to the people of Sumner County, our goal in serving the citizens of Sumner County is to exceed the requirements established in Tennessee state law and do hereby adopt these Standing Rules and Procedures.” [Emphasis added.] 

The Sumner County Board of Commissioners must immediately remove the reference to “Judeo-Christian values,” FFRF is asking, since it may not use its legislative power to promote, favor and force a select set of religious values on Sumner County’s citizens. 

“The Supreme Court has long held that the Establishment Clause requires that the government remain neutral between religions, and between religion and nonreligion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence writes to Sumner County Board of Commissioners Chair Merrol Hyde. “When the board blatantly promotes a specific brand of religion, going so far as to declare it in the preamble to its Standing Rules and Procedures, it sends the unmistakable message to all nonreligious and minority religion citizens ‘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.

Moreover, FFRF emphasizes, it is erroneous to assert that our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values. The concept of “Judeo-Christian values” did not even exist until the mid 20th Century, let alone at the time the United States was founded. To the contrary, the United States was founded by Enlightenment-inspired thinkers who valued reason and skepticism. If the Framers had wanted to establish the United States based on religious principles, they would have said so in the Constitution, the founding document of our nation. Instead, our Founders made our country the first among nations to adopt a godless and entirely secular Constitution, one whose only references to religion are exclusionary.

In 1797, our country famously signed a treaty with Tripoli declaring that the “government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” This treaty — drafted during George Washington’s presidency, approved unanimously by the Senate, and signed by John Adams — is a reminder that the Founders explicitly held the United States to be a government that separated state from church. 

Hence, it is pure misinformation to suggest that our nation is founded on Judeo-Christian values. As elected officials, Sumner County commissioners are obligated to uphold the Constitution and rule of law, not Judeo-Christian values coupled with an erroneous recitation of national history. 

FFRF firmly requests the Sumner County Board of Commissioners to immediately correct its constitutional violation and remove the reference to Judeo-Christian values from the preamble. 

You can read the entire letter here.

“It is not only unconstitutional but it  betrays an exclusionary mindset for a governmental body to proclaim an official adherence to any set of religious values,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 38,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 400 members and a local chapter in Tennessee. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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