HENDERSON COUNTY, Tenn. – After receiving a complaint letter from a prominent atheist group, the mayor of a Tennessee county says he has no plans to remove a Bible verse inscription from his county’s courthouse and hopes instead to add an additional verse to the building’s walls.
On June 30, attorney Rebecca Markert with the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) mailed a letter to Dan Hughes, mayor of Henderson County in Tennessee. She said that a “concerned local resident” told FFRF about a biblical inscription on the cornerstone of the county courthouse.
“We understand that a Bible verse is etched on the wall of the Henderson County Courthouse in Lexington, Tennessee,” Markert wrote. “The verse reads, ‘Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: Mercy and truth shall go before thy face. Psalms 89:14.’”
Arguing that the scriptural inscription violates the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, Markert said the verse on the courthouse is “inappropriate” because “it conveys government support for religion.”
“The context of the religious message is particularly problematic,” she added. “The verse alludes to the throne of a Judeo-Christian god, and it is embedded into the walls of the courthouse, the seat of government. This perpetuates the myth that our law is based on biblical principles, and it sends the message to private citizens with business at the courthouse that the justice they seek will be decided based on religion.”
Markert concluded the letter by urging Hughes to remove the verse from the courthouse wall “as soon as possible.”
However, Hughes said he was surprised that anyone would take issue with the Bible verse and advised that he has no plans to remove the inscription, which has reportedly been on the courthouse cornerstone for more than 50 years.
“I wasn’t expecting anything and had not been contacted about the verse or really believed half the people in county even know the verse is on that side of the cornerstone,” Hughes told WBBJ.
In his reply to FFRF, Hughes noted that most residents of Henderson County believe in God.
“Our community is based on the belief of a true and living God,” he wrote.
Hughes told WBBJ that he has received nothing but positive feedback regarding his decision. Furthemore, he said he hopes to add an additional verse to the courthouse: Psalm 33:12. That verse says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD: and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.”
Local residents interviewed by WBBJ said they were glad their mayor didn’t capitulate to the atheist group’s demands.
“It ought to stay right there,” said Henderson County resident John Huffman. “If somebody else wants something different, they’ll chisel it on there. There’s plenty of squares.”
“It’s a big Bible Belt around here, and you know, if they don’t like it, they don’t have to read it,” Henderson County resident Adam Pinte opined.
“Well, it’s on the back of your dollar bill too, but nobody complains when they spend their money,” Pinte added.
FFRF released a statement on Wednesday saying they were “alarmed” by the mayor’s decision to retain the biblical engraving and “shocked by such an explicit endorsement of Christianity.” FFRF co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker mailed a response letter to Hughes, urging him to reconsider his decision.
However, Danny Sorrell, pastor of Campbell Street Church of Christ in Jackson, Tennessee, said biblical principles played an important role in the founding of the U.S., so biblical inscriptions on government buildings are constitutional.
“Our country was founded on a Christian heritage, and there’s so much that we can gain from and learn from our past and learn from God’s word,” Sorrell told WBBJ.
“Having a Bible verse on the courthouse, that’s not imposing anyone’s religion on anyone else,” he added. “It’s just part of the history of our country.”