Bible verse causes courthouse controversy in Henderson County

HENDERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — The mayor of Henderson County says he was surprised to receive a letter of grievance last month.

“I wasn’t expecting anything and had not been contacted about the verse or really believed half the people in county even knew the verse was on that side of the cornerstone,” Mayor Dan Hughes said.

He’s talking about a Bible verse that has been engraved on the Henderson County courthouse for over 50 years. The letter from the nonprofit organization Freedom From Religion Foundation calls the verse unconstitutional.

“We were contacted by a local Henderson County resident and was asked by that person to lodge a complaint on their behalf,” said Rebecca Markert, attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Mayor Hughes replied to the letter with one of his own earlier this month, stating that he has no intention of removing the verse.

“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 said.

A local Henderson County attorney says he remembers being here when the courthouse was built back in 1961, but he says, from a lawyer’s perspective, the Freedom From Religion Foundation does have a point.

“By placing a Christian verse on a government courthouse, that is abridging the governments duty to be neutral,” Markert said. “And that violates the establishment clause of the first amendment.”

Residents we spoke with wonder where you draw the line.

“Well, it’s on the back of your dollar bill too, but nobody complains when they spend their money,” Pinte said.

As for the fate of the courthouse, only time will tell.

“It ought to stay right there,” Henderson County resident John Huffman said. “If somebody else wants something different, they’ll chisel it on there. There’s plenty of squares.”

Mayor Hughes says he has gotten nothing but positive feedback regarding his decision, saying he hopes to add an additional verse, Psalms 33:12.

Attorney Markert says the foundation plans on mailing another letter to the mayor asking him to review the situation with an attorney, or legal action will be taken.

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