The debate between the county's right to keep the images on display and the foundation's demand is drawing attention nationally.
There’s been little in recent memory that has drawn a crowd to a Camden County Commission meeting such as the one on Tuesday to discuss the demand by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to remove two images from the courthouse.
It was standing room only for the meeting with Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty and Associate Commissioner Don Williams. Of those who jammed the meeting room, the support for the county’s decision seemed to be widespread. Although a number of residents spoke in favor of the images, there was no one who spoke out in support of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s demand for the removal of the images.
The debate between the county’s right to keep the images on display and the foundation’s demand is drawing attention nationally.
Hasty and Williams said the county does not intend to remove the images and has notified the Freedom From Religion Foundation of their decision. The county sought legal advice before sending an official response to the foundation. The Wisconsin-based group said the images are a violation of the First Amendment and need to be removed.
According to county officials, the complaint was lodged late last year on behalf of a Camden County resident who came in for voting information. The foundation notified the county of the complaint by letter and included photos of the images.
In the letter to county clerk Rowland Todd, the foundation said the images represent an “unconstitutional government endorsement of religion and needed to be removed”.
One of the images in question hangs in Todd’s office with a flag in the background and a verse that says, “Greater love hath no one than this, that one would lay their life down for another.”
The image has been moved within the office to a private work space.
The second image is a depiction of a cross with a child and firefighter looking on. It is located in a hallway. The scene memorializes the 9/11 attacks.
The image that was brought up the most during the debate was the 9/11 painting.
Morgan County pastor Joe Lietcke came in support of the image staying in the courthouse. He said, “I think it’s a crucial thing that’s happening in your county and it’s really important. I was encouraged by all the Christian support that you have here. Those people are standing up for their rights.”
Steven Rogers of Sunrise Beach said, “I believe that you should respect everybody’s rights. However, partly about rights is, first of all, you have to be right. Take that picture, for instance. It symbolizes something. Symbol. This is only a symbol. It looks like something, but it doesn’t mean that it is something. That is the point I want to make. It looks like a cross. Okay, well let’s take the alphabet as another example. Let’s turn it sideways and now it looks like a cross. Does that mean we take the ‘x’ out of the alphabet and we start speaking Latin? What about the Red Cross? Do we get rid of the Red Cross?”
Among the crowd was the artist’s relative. Amber Parrish said, “My sister-in-law is actually the one that painted this. I was with her when she painted it. I am sure everybody remembers the unity of this country from 9/11. It didn’t matter who you were, we all stood together and I think it’s sad that this many years later this is the issue of why we are all here. She did this as a memorial for everybody who lost their lives. When I look at that painting, I don’t see a cross. I see it as a symbol of hope and a reminder of what we’ve lost. I want to also thank everyone for being here today for her. She wishes she could be here.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation promotes the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. Based in Wisconsin, the foundation reports a membership of 32,200. It is a non-profit, tax-exempt, educational organization under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3), according to information on their website.