JEFFERSON-Ashe County Schools won’t be joining the courthouse and law enforcement center in putting “In God We Trust” on the exterior of its buildings.
That news comes from the Chairmen of both the Ashe County boards of Commissioners and Education, and despite locally donated funds that could pay for the effort.
It’s just the latest in a series of decisions by local policymakers about placing the national motto in and on county owned buildings since the start of 2015.
According to Charlie King, the Chairman of the Ashe County Board of Education, his board made the decision not to place the phrase on the exterior of its school buildings at the board’s meeting earlier this month.
King said the board made the call to keep the exterior of the system’s schools like they are at present.
“We were approached about putting the sign ‘In God We Trust’ on the outside of the school buildings,” King said. “There isn’t any signage up at all right now and we decided just to leave it that way.”
The decision, according to King, wasn’t intended to pass judgment on the motto. He said the phrase is already visible in all of the district’s classrooms.
“We offered to let them put the phrase in the common areas and anywhere else inside, just not on the exterior of the buildings,” King said. “Take the high school, for instance. It doesn’t even say, ‘Ashe County High School,’ on the building.”
How’d we get here
In January, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners voted to add the phrase to the wall of the small courtroom of the county courthouse.
Three months later, on April 20, commissioners were approached by Rick Lanier, co-founder and vice-chairman of the U.S. Motto Action Committee to add the phrase “In God We Trust,” to the exterior of government properties.
Lanier served as a Davidson County Commissioner from 1998-2002, and co-founded the U.S. Motto Action Committee in 2002. That’s the same year Davidson County voted to display “In God We Trust,” on their buildings.
That was a move the American Civil Liberties Union moved to block, which was upheld through a federal appeals court. The U.S. Motto Action Committee formed as a result of the legal battle, and the U.S. Supreme Court later rejected the appeal, which gave Davidson the right to keep the phrase on its buildings.
Since then, Lanier’s committee has campaigned other government leaders to place the phrase on their local properties.
Public or private dollars?
County commissioners unanimously agreed to Lanier’s proposal, though perhaps with differing interpretations of how the signs should be bought and installed.
Lanier said in an interview earlier this month his group seeks approval from county governments to place the motto on a building’s exterior and then campaigns to raise funds from local residents to install the lettering. That usually includes churches and other community groups.
Roark said Nov. 5, he and local churches had already donated funds – combined more than $1,000 – before an Oct. 5, county commission meeting made that fundraising campaign moot.
Ashe County Commissioners Larry Rhodes said in October he understood Lanier’s proposal in April differently. Rhodes said he believed Lanier’s group was going to pay for the motto signs from money his group had on-hand – not from community donations.
When he found out about the fundraising campaign, Rhodes made the motion on Oct. 5, to simply pay for the signs with public money – about $2,400 – which the board unanimously supported.
That’s when Roark said he turned his attention to using the funding to pay for “In God We Trust” on the exterior of the the county’s five school properties. But Roark said he was “floored” by the Board of Education’s decision not to display the motto outside.
“Here I’ve got to go back and apologize to the people (who donated money) because we can’t put it on the buildings,” Roark said. “I can’t imagine them not wanting to put it on. That’s what sets Ashe County aside from all these other counties.”
For his part, King said he didn’t believe tourists traveling to Ashe County would base their travel decisions on whether or not the school system allowed signs on the exterior of its buildings.
“We don’t object to ‘In God We Trust at all,” King said. “Anywhere inside is fine by me. Just not on the exterior.”
Roark hopes the system will amend the decision in this case.
“It’s not costing the schools one dime and all this money will be raised for them,” Roark said. “And if it changes one kid’s attitude, it’s money well spent.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.