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Carter legislators, school board moving quickly to resolve national motto question

John Thompson • Aug 19, 2018 at 12:34 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Carter County’s legislative delegation has been working for the past several days to address concerns by the county’s school board about a possible conflict between a new state law and an old federal court injunction against the school.

The new state law requires the posting of the motto “In God We Trust” in classrooms, while the 1988 federal court injunction bars the county’s schools from allowing religious activities during school hours.

State Sens. Rusty Crowe and Jon Lundberg and State Reps. John Holsclaw Jr. and Timothy Hill have been in contact with Carter County educators about the school system’s concerns and are working to get the state’s legal experts involved.

Crowe said the four legislators have discussed the matter. He said Hill is currently writing a letter to the state attorney general requesting a legal opinion and that the opinion should be expedited.

Crowe said Hill should be sending the letter to the attorney general Monday.

“I am sure the Carter County School System wants to be in compliance with the law,” Hill said.

In addition to getting the state attorney general involved in the conflict, Crowe said the legal staff for the General Assembly has also been requested to look into it.

Crowe said the bill requires all schools to display the national motto of the United States: “In God We Trust” in a permanent location. The display may take the form of a mounted plaque or student artwork.

The law requires the schools to have the display in place for the start of this school year.

Crowe said the bill was presented by Sen. Paul Bailey on Feb. 28. Bailey said the bill sought to have the nation’s motto displayed in all public schools, and that 19 states have a similar law.

The bill was sent to the Education Committee. The motion to approve the bill in committee was made by Sen. Dolores Gresham and seconded by Crowe. The committee approved it 8-0 without discussing it.

The bill was then unanimously approved in the Senate on March 2. State Rep. Susan Lynn introduced the bill in the House. It was approved in the House by a vote of  81-8, with 2 present but not voting. The bill became Public Chapter 640.

Crowe said the bill was seen as a recognition of the nation’s motto and a reflection on the nation’s historical roots.

“It shows that religious values were important to the nation’s forefathers,” Crowe said.

Holsclaw Jr. agreed, and it was a matter that needed to be resolved quickly.

The Carter County School System is also moving quickly. Director of Schools Kevin Ward has already received legal opinions from two lawyers.

He discussed the legal advice he received and their concerns during last Thursday’s meeting of the school board. A legal workshop is set for Thursday at 4 p.m.

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