U.S. motto hearing stirs emotions

Commissioners approve wording for building in split vote

By Karen Holbrook - kholbrook@civitasmedia.com

The United States National Motto sparked a debate at the regular monthly commissioners meeting at the Elkin Town Hall on Monday night. Several members of the local community attended with prepared statements sharing their thoughts regarding the addition of the motto to the government building.

In a continuation of a topic approached during the June meeting, members of the community came out to voice their opinions on the subject of placing “In God We Trust” on the outside of Town Hall. For clarification and answers on the group’s agenda in funding the additional signage, U.S. Motto Action Committee Chairman Fred McClure was invited to speak at the meeting.

“The Supreme Court says ‘In God We Trust’ does not coerce anyone to a certain religion,” said McClure, explaining that the ruling by the highest court upheld the right of public buildings to display the motto. “The suit dispels the idea that this is in violation of the Establishment Clause. In 2011, Congress voted 396-6 to reaffirm ‘In God We Trust’ as our National Motto and encouraged government buildings to display it.”

Commissioner Bob Norton questioned McClure, a Davidson County commissioner, on the reception of the placement of the motto by his citizens. “We’ve had people overwhelmingly for it,” said McClure. “Outside of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), not many dissenters at all. We’ve had 54 municipalities place the motto so far.”

McClure stated in each of the counties and townships where a presentation was given, it was approved. “I want to double clarify to say that some didn’t invite us,” said McClure, stating some commissioners declined to hear from the action committee.

After the presentation given in June by U.S. Motto Action Committee Co-Chairman Rick Lanier, members of the community had questions regarding the scripture included in the pamphlet and why it was necessary if the agenda contained no religious intent. According to McClure, as long as the sign has no secular use then it doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause.

Once McClure’s presentation was completed, a public hearing began.

“I thought we already had a motto – ‘Best Little Town in N.C.,’” said Owen Good regarding the motto used by Elkin. “It’s important to our tourism economy. Everyone can say that with a sense of pride without resentment.”

“I was at the meeting when Rick Lanier gave his presentation,” said Jennifer White. “It’s not an idea brought to the commissioners by any citizen of Elkin. The decision not to put the motto on our Town Hall will not offend anyone.”

Local resident and Elkin Valley Trails Association Chairman Dr. Bill Blackley spoke up, stating he is an elder in the Presbyterian church yet sides with those in favor of leaving the motto off of the building. “I don’t think we need this motto to prove our spirituality or patriotism,” said Blackley.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Quartermaster Sam Bishop spoke his concerns that allowing a group to put a sign on the Elkin building could open the town to possible lawsuits from other special interest groups. “I don’t think we need anything on the building,” said Bishop, who then asked those in the room to raise their hands if they were for it or opposed to it. A survey of the audience showed an overwhelming majority declining to place the motto on the Town Hall building.

While the majority of the people spoke against displaying the motto, a collection of those in attendance cited religious and patriotic reasons they would prefer to add it.

“I never thought I’d live to see the time where ‘In God We Trust’ threatens anybody,” said David Hutchens, who spoke up in favor of the displaying the motto. “I’d love to see it on the building, the sides of the building, inside the building.”

The question of who would fund the project continued to be an ongoing debate, with emotions running high regarding the special interest of the overtly Christian organization. According to McClure, the money would ideally be raised by the local community, however, if it was unable to meet the cost, the group would step in to provide additional funding to add the signage stating “In God We Trust.”

Once the public hearing ended, commissioners began their discussion.

“I hate to see anything become divisive,” stated Commissioner J.L. Lowe. “I think we should stay right where we are to avoid it.”

Commissioner since 2011, Dr. Skip Whitman offered his opinion on the matter, speaking passionately in favor of displaying the motto. “In four years, this is the first time I’ve sat up here and felt uncomfortable because I said when I agreed to run that I didn’t have an agenda,” said Whitman. “But that’s a lie because my agenda is my God… I can’t in good faith not be who I am. If you truly believe in God you can’t do anything but welcome everyone or you’re not being true to your faith.”

“I’ve talked to many that say they were in favor,” said Commissioner Terry Kennedy, restating the stance that if the Supreme Court has adjudicated a decision on the matter then he would support it.

“I’m a Christian, I won’t deny it,” said Commissioner Bob Norton, agreeing with the National Motto. “We’d be better off if we followed some of these sentiments.”

After a discussion by the commissioners, a motion to approve the motto without accepting funding from the Action Committee but instead being appropriated from the town budget was made by Kennedy and seconded by Whitman.

The motion carried with a 3-2 vote.

Other topics discussed at the meeting include an update on the rock façade project, Elkin Valley Trails Association progress on new trails and upcoming fundraisers, and a mutual aide agreement for the Elkin Fire Department to be made with the Arlington Fire Department.

The next Town Hall meeting will be held on Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.

Karen Holbrook may be reached at 336-258-4059 or on Twitter @KarenHolbrook00.

Commissioners approve wording for building in split vote

By Karen Holbrook


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