Ward: State AG won’t give opinion on “In God We Trust” issue

Published 6:17 pm Monday, November 5, 2018

The Carter County School System has found itself between a rock and a hard place.

The school system wants to be in compliance with Tennessee’s National Motto In The Classroom Act, which requires schools to display the “In God We Trust” motto. The system, however, also doesn’t want to be in violation of a 30-year-old federal injunction that forbids Carter County schools from “allowing, approving or encouraging religious activities in the public schools for Carter County, Tennessee during public school hours.”

So the question is, would displaying the “In God We Trust” motto be in violation of the permanent injunction handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hull? To seek help on this issue, the Carter County School System, with assistance from State Representatives Rusty Crowe and Timothy Hill, requested an opinion and guidance from the Tennessee State Attorney General Herbert Slatery on the new state law and its conflict with the school system’s injunction.

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According to Carter County Director of Schools Kevin Ward, however, that opinion will not be coming.

“Last week, I made a few phone calls, and the Attorney General is not going to be giving an opinion,” said Ward.

Ward said that he was told that the reason for the AG’s decision not to give an opinion is because the AG may have to give an opinion later on if the case goes to the federal courts.

“If we did put it (“In God We Trust” display) up and it was tested and put in a test case, then he (Slatery) would then have to give an opinion on that case,” said Ward.

The school system was waiting on Slatery’s opinion to help decide on how to move forward in putting up the display or not. So, with Slatery’s opinion out of the picture, what is the school system going to do?

Ward said that the system is planning a December workshop session to decided whether or not to put up the “In God We Trust” motto in county schools and that the system will be looking to other legal opinions it has received in making a decision.

“We do understand that the motto itself has been tried and tested in several other states and has prevailed,” said Ward. “The only thing that complicates it for us is just not putting up the motto, but putting up the motto in regards to whether or not it would violate the injunction we have been under for 30 years.”

Tennessee’s National Motto In The Classroom Act, signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam this year, requires  Tennessee schools to display the nation’s motto of “In God We Trust” in a prominent location at the school. There isn’t any language in the act that defines any type of repercussions if a school is not within compliance.

The Elizabethton Star reached out to the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the office’s Communication Director Samantha Fisher, said that the AG couldn’t give any comment.

“We cannot comment on requests for opinions or denial of opinions because it is considered attorney/client privilege,” said Fisher in an email.