Several signs declaring “In God We Trust” have been installed in public buildings in Anderson County, Tenn., after a contentious, eight-month process, and plans to extend the initiative to neighboring counties are underway.
Anderson County now has five In God We Trust signs adorning several courthouses and a firehouse despite opposition from the ACLU and some local residents. Another will be affixed above a local lawyer’s office in the next two weeks.
Plans are underway to possibly expand the initiative to nearby counties, according to Lynn Byrge, a local business owner in Anderson County.
“We’re going to try to get it on as many buildings as we can,” said Byrge. “We’re going to try to keep the movement going.”
The effort to install the signs in Anderson County was started by Byrge. He said he was inspired by the placement of the words In God We Trust on the Putnam County courthouse last year.
Byrge solicited private donations to pay for the signs, and they flowed in.
“They needed the money they gave,” he explained.
Getting the signs approved wasn’t a smooth process and quickly became a divisive issue. Five public meetings were held on the initiative, according to Mayor Terry Frank. The meetings attracted hundreds, and some were standing room only.
“Four commissioners really tried to stop it,” the mayor said. “My interpretation of why they tried to stop it, I believe they felt it was a religious specific statement, that it was a Christian statement.”
According to Frank that was not the case.
“The motto itself is the national motto,” she said. “It’s ecumenical. It’s on our currency, in the Senate, in the House and has been tested in the courts,” said Frank. She indicated that many “want to strip the public square of any faith.”
Twelve commissioners voted in favor of the plaques and four voted no.
Whitey Hitchcock was one of the four to vote no. He initially agreed to a phone interview then declined. He then sent an email statement that said, “This issue has been decided and is several months old. My energy is focused on the important issues facing our county ahead. It is time to move on.”
Robin Biloski was another commissioner who voted no on the initiative, and she did not respond to a request for comment.
The American Civil Liberties of Tennessee also was opposed to having In God We Trust adorn buildings in the county.
“People of all faiths, as well as non-believers, should feel welcome in their government buildings. County governments should focus on representing the interests of all residents, not sowing seeds of religious divisiveness in the community by challenging the fundamental founding principle that government must remain neutral when it comes to matters of faith,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.
Those who supported the initiative said having the national motto displayed is positive.
“The country’s going downhill so far so fast, so we needed to do what we can to slow down the process, to display the national motto,” Byrge said.
“You can believe in God or not, “ he explained. “It neither elevates one religion over another. God could be anything you choose.”
Byrge said, “If Muslims look that sign, they could see Allah.”
Frank said she has received a few negative emails from people out of state, but the response has been largely positive.
“I hear a good response, a sense of pride,” she said. “There was an awesome crowed when they unveiled the first sign.”
Over 150 people gathered when the first sign was unveiled and sang “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land.” Several gathered last week for the fifth sign installation and also sang patriotic songs.
Of the 50 pastors in the area contacted for the project, an overwhelming majority signed on. Only five pastors did not endorse it.
Curtis Akers, pastor of the Clinton Church of God, was a supporter.
“It is the national motto and was established by Congress, and because of that it needed to be there,” Akers said.
He said his congregation is “very supportive” of the signs, and “the people in the community are very supportive.”
When asked what the impact has been on the community, Akers said, “I think it’s still very early, the signs just went up a few weeks ago. But do I think it will have a positive effect on the community? Yes, I do.”
In God We Trust was placed on currency after the Civil War. President Dwight Eisenhower signed a law declaring In God We Trust the national motto in 1956.