The Reporter covers Miller, Morgan and Camden County in Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks and is published once per week on Wednesdays.
Above is a photo of one of the pictures at the courthouse that the Freedom From Religion Foundation claims are illegal (the other is below right). A letter was sent to Camden County Clerk Rowland Todd “requesting” that he remove both from the courthouse walls. The Painting (below right) is not in Todd’s office but is in the hallway by the elevators and is a painting of the World Trade Center Cross found in the ruins after the terrorist attacks in New York. (Reporter photos by Dale Johnson)
Published November 28, 2018
Atheist group attacks courthouse over two pictures
CAMDEN COUNTY – The Camden County Courthouse has been threatened by an atheist group over two pictures hanging inside the building.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to County Clerk Rowland Todd earlier this month telling him that two pictures “in your office” are a violation of the constitution and have to be removed.
The FFRF is an organization that seeks to destroy the belief in any god and eliminate all religious expression, particularly Christianity (see sidebar story).
They claim to have a “member of your community” who filed a complaint with the FFRF over the two pictures. They also claim both are in the County Clerk’s office, which is not true.
One is and the other is in the courthouse hallway by the elevators and not in the clerk’s office. Todd has no jurisdiction on that painting.
Their letter describes the “offensive” items.
“Our complainant reports that two religious images are prominently displayed in your office in plain view of any person there to conduct business. The first is a framed New Testament verse, which reads: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that one would lay their life down for another. John 15:13.’ Our complainant reports that this bible verse is displayed near the ballot box or absentee voting. The second display is a wall-length September 11th memorial that features a large Latin cross at its center. The cross is draped in cloth, similar to crosses displayed at Easter.”
The picture hanging in the clerk’s office does not state what the FFRF claims. They apparently took the verse from somewhere else and did not read the actual wording on the picture. Though similar, the wording is different. The wording on the picture says:
“Greater love hath no one than this, that one would lay their life down for another. John 15:13.”
The words are over stars and stripes.
The September 11th Memorial painting is a depiction of the 911 cross that was found in the rubble of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. That cross has been placed on a concrete pedestal and is on display at the actual 911 memorial in New York City. (see sidebar story).
The painting is a New York Firefighter with a small girl who is pointing to the 911 cross.
The threatening letter from the FFRF continues with case histories of governments being ordered by judges to remove religious displays.
“We write to ask that you remove these religious displays from the County Clerk’s office in recognition that they represent an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion,” the letter says. “The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages. The Supreme Court has said time and again that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”
The First Amendment says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Though the First Amendment only applies to Congress, judges over the years have broadened the law and apply it to any governmental body.
Other statements by the atheist group conclude that the two pictures are wrong and there is no argument against their beliefs.
“Like the Ten Commandments posters in county buildings in McCreary and the crèche display on county land in Allegheny, a reasonable observer would view the displays in your office as an endorsement of religion, and they are accordingly unconstitutional.”
“A bible quote and a cross certainly falls within the category of religious speech that the government must not sponsor to avoid the appearance of religious favoritism.”
The letter concludes with a statement that the clerk’s office cannot do its job if the two are left hanging on the walls.
“The County Clerk’s office cannot fulfill its mission of serving all members of the community while also sponsoring a message that excludes minority religious and nonreligious citizens, who represent 30% of the population. We request assurances that you will provide all citizens with an environment free from religious endorsement by removing these exclusionary displays. Please respond in writing detailing the actions your office will take so that we may notify our complainant.”
It should be noted again that only one is in the Clerk’s office and Todd has no jurisdiction over the 911 memorial painting in the hallway by the elevators.
The FFRF, like the American Civil Liberties Union, have a habit of terrorizing governmental bodies with threats of a lawsuit if they don’t do exactly as they request (order) and the FFRF has no problem suing governments that don’t obey them.
The picture in the clerk’s office is actually owned by one of the employees and has been hanging there (with permission) for many years.
So the situation boils down to this: does the county remove the two pictures because an organization, allegedly representing a person “from the community”, orders them to do so or do they stand firm and face the possibility of a lawsuit?
Todd told The Reporter that he has spoken to Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty about it but at the present time, Todd said he is not going to do anything with the one picture he has jurisdiction over.
The 911 memorial painting, since it is in the hallway and not in Todd’s office, is under the control of the County Commissioners.
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