‘In God We Trust’: Not in Carter County Schools

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Public schools in Tennessee are now required by state law to display the words “In God We Trust,” but one district in the Tri-Cities will not be participating.

Carter County school leaders say legal counsel advised them not to participate due to a previous legal issue 30 years ago. 

Carter County School Board Chairman Rusty Barnett said it’s due to a 1988 lawsuit in 1988, in which an individual sued Carter County School officials for violating First Amendment rights by holding religious activities during school hours.

“We’re not happy with this but we are held liable if something happens and we go against this injunction, we could be held personally liable.”

In court documents obtained by News Channel 11, it states Carter County Schools was placed under a permanent injunction from allowing, approving or encouraging religious activities on school property during school hours. 

“Since then we have been under court order, it’s an injunction against us so our hands are tied,” Barnett said. “I’ve talked to several board members and we are all unhappy with the situation, but we have to go by the court order.”

Barnett said the board was advised by two different lawyers to not place the national motto inside the schools, because of this injunction.

News Channel 11 brought the issue to Stewart Harris, he’s a constitutional law professor at the Duncan School of Law at Lincoln Memorial University in Knoxville.

WJHL: “If this sign doesn’t violate the First Amendment then why did the attorney suggest they not do this?”

“Well, that’s the issue. There are going to be those that argue that the national motto or it’s display doesn’t violate the First Amendment, but then you have an acknowledgment in this 30-year-old consent decree that perhaps it does,” Harris said. “Carter County has been ordered not to display it, so that’s the contradiction here isn’t it, that’s the situation they have.”

Barnett said school board members plan to take the issue back to court to make sure this motto is placed on display in every Carter County school.

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