Hawkins officials ignore attorney's warning, OK Foundations display

Jeff Bobo • Jan 29, 2013 at 9:16 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission voted unanimously Monday in favor of allowing a historical document display known as “Foundations of American Law and Government” to be hung in the lobby of the Justice Center in Rogersville.

The subject is controversial for a couple of reasons, including the fact that an earlier attempt to raise funds for a “Foundations” display resulted in a felony theft conviction for a sitting Hawkins County judge.

Also, the display will include the Ten Commandments.

Hanging the Ten Commandments on public buildings in other parts of the country has resulted in lawsuits being filed over concerns for maintaining separation of church and state.

There was no public discussion by county commissioners on the Foundations resolution.

Prior to the vote, however, County Attorney Jim Phillips called a private attorney/client meeting with the 21 commissioners.

Multiple commissioners told the Times-News that Phillips informed them that hanging the Ten Commandments in the Justice Center could potentially result in a lawsuit being filed against the county.

One commissioner, who asked not to be named after divulging the content of Phillips’ private meeting, said the Hawkins County Commission isn’t afraid of a lawsuit in this matter.

“I think that most of us would welcome a lawsuit and an opportunity to defend the Ten Commandments,” the commissioner said. “While we’re at it, we ought to put it in every school and on billboards all over the county.”

The latest resolution seeking permission for a Foundations display was introduced by District 2 commissioners B.D. Cradic and Fred Castle, both of whom are collecting donations for the project.

Aside from the Ten Commandments, other documents included in the Foundations display are the Tennessee Constitution, the national anthem, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, Seal of Hawkins County, Cumberland Compact, Declaration of Independence, Mayflower Compact, Magna Carta and a depiction of “Lady Justice.”

The display will also include an “explanations document” describing the historical significance of each document.

There is precedent-setting federal case law in favor of the Foundations display.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that a Foundations display at the courthouse in Mercer County, Ky., was constitutional.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Foundations display in the courthouse at Elkart County, Ind., was constitutional.

And the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky ruled that a Foundations display was constitutional in a government building in Rowan County, Ky.

The display will be funded 100 percent with contributed funds and at no cost to the taxpayers.

In other business Monday the commission:

• Heard reports from various commissioners praising the efforts of Highway Superintendent Lowell Bean and his staff; Holston Electric Cooperative general manager Larry Elkins and his staff; and Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell and all county rescuers for their efforts during the two recent weeks of extreme weather, including flooding, snow and freezing rain.

• Approved the appointment or reappointment of several members of the Agricultural Extension Committee, including commissioners Stacy Vaughan and Robert Palmer; farm woman Jackie Webb; and farm man Francis Horne — all with terms that expire Dec. 31, 2014.

• Approved an increase of the speed limit from 30 mph to 40 mph on Slate Hill Road. Although past speed limit changes considered by the commission have been decreases, Road Committee Chairman Danny Alvis said this increase was requested by residents of that road. Commissioner Syble Vaughan-Trent offered the only no vote to the increase.

• Unanimously approved a resolution necessary for Tennessee Department of Transportation to make road and bridge improvements to Adams Lane near Highway 11-W.

• Voted unanimously in favor of a resolution increasing the annual county permit fee for seasonal fireworks sales from $300 to $1,000.

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