Murfreesboro, Tennessee – A county sheriff in the Bible Belt is defending his display of the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the sheriff’s department, which also houses the jail.
Rutherford County, Tennessee Sheriff Robert Arnold was gifted with the framed Commandments last year, along with a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, which have been hanging side by side for a number of months now.
“Those are documents this country was founded on,” Arnold told The Tennessean. “Those are documents that all laws are derived from in this country.”
He noted that the displays are a reminder of his duty as sheriff.
“[My] job is to enforce the laws of the land, and those are three documents of laws of the land,” said Arnold. “Those are the founding three documents of the laws of this country.”
Local resident Cindy Wallace told local station WKRN that she is glad the Commandments are posted in the county building.
“I love it,” she said. “Thank God we have a sheriff with enough guts to put that in the lobby.”
However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that the display of the Biblical laws is unlawful.
“Should the Ten Commandments be posted in a government building? The answer is no,” stated Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “The principle this country was founded on is that, as individuals, we have the right to practice our own religious faith without government endorsement or supporting one particular doctrine.”
“People of all faiths, as well as non-believers, should feel like they are being treated equally and fairly while in their local government buildings, especially in the sheriff’s office which houses the jail,” she said. “Rather than promoting a particular religious doctrine, the government must remain neutral so that religious freedom can flourish.”
No remarks of opposition have been made against the religious content in the other historical documents posted, such as the Declaration of Independence, which refers to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and states that men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
Furthermore, argument remains over the interpretation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, as some note that it only states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” and not all government bodies. Russell Nieli, a lecturer at Princeton University, explained a number of viewpoints in an article entitled Interpreting the Establishment Clause Without an Agenda.
“[T]he jurisdictional or federalism-enhancing view, … argues that the Establishment Clause was, in Smith’s words, ‘simply an assignment of jurisdiction over matters of religion to the states—no more, no less,’” he outlined. ”At the time of the adoption of the First Amendment, jurisdictionalists point out, several of the states (for example, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire) had state and local church-state arrangements that many would call ‘establishments of religion.’”
“The Establishment Clause should be understood then, as an attempt both to (1) prohibit such an establishment at the national level, and (2) offer protection of each state’s right to maintain such an establishment within its own borders,” Neili continued. “A major purpose of the Establishment Clause, say the jurisdictionalists, was to protect a state’s prerogative to establish a religion or support religion in any way it chose, whether preferentially or non-preferentially.”
As for Sheriff Arnold, he states that he will keep the display posted and has no plans to remove any of the framed documents.