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Carter County Schools in tough position between state law, federal court injunction

John Thompson • Updated Aug 17, 2018 at 12:14 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Kevin Ward said the Carter County School System has found itself between a rock and a hard place over the “In God We Trust” motto.

The Carter County director of schools finds it ironic that the motto has placed the school system in such a difficult position.

“I haven’t taken a poll on this, but I know every one of the board members would be glad to place that in the schools,” Ward said. The fact that placing the motto in the schools is now required by state law makes it even more of a reason to have the schools include the motto.

The only problem is that Carter County is the only county in Tennessee affected by a permanent federal court injunction “perpetually enjoining, restraining and prohibiting” the school system “from allowing, approving, or encouraging religious activities in the public schools for Carter County Schools during public school hours.”

The injunction was issued by the U.S. District Court in Greenville on Nov. 23, 1988, as a result of the court deciding against the school board in a lawsuit brought about by religious activities that were occurring in the school system during the 1986-87 school year. The court held that the activities violated the First Amendment rights of the plaintiffs and class action members.

Since that time, the school system has followed the court’s injunction, even though there were occasional pressures from the devoutly religious county to observe some religious matters in the schools.

But the new state law created a different problem.

Ward said he has consulted with two attorneys on the question. The school board has scheduled a legal workshop for next Thursday to discuss the matter and perhaps find a solution.

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