The Monday night meeting at Elkin Town Hall covered several topics of interest, but none drew more attention than the debate over whether the town should approve of the addition of the motto “In God We Trust.”
During the May Town Hall meeting, Rick Lanier, co-chairman for the U.S. Motto Action Committee, offered a proposal for the group to fund the addition of the national motto to be displayed prominently on Town Hall.
Commissioner Terry Kennedy began the discussion on the resolution supporting the addition of the motto by stating that the arguments for litigation against the motto are unfounded according to case law. Backing up the stance taken by Kennedy, Commissioner Skip Whitman stated that the motto is a patriotic act that can be viewed as comparable to the American flag flying out front.
“I don’t see a problem with it,” said Whitman. “We say the pledge before every meeting and ‘God’ is in our pledge.”
Commissioner Cicely McCulloch read two letters submitted from local residents which stated their beliefs as to why the sign should not be added to the front of the building, citing separation of church and state among other reasons.
Responding to the letters, Whitman offered his take on the argument stating that the motto does not interfere with Constitutional amendments. “I keep hearing people say separation of church and state, but I just don’t see it,” Whitman said. “It’s just the word that’s been chosen: God. I thought of it as patriotic.”
In opposition of the motto, Louis Jeroslow questioned the group, U.S. Motto Action Committee, and their agenda. “The gentleman never said the reason for wanting this put up,” said Jeroslow. “It’s a group from outside Elkin that said you should change this. How is this helping? What are we accomplishing?”
Several others in the audience agreed with Jeroslow’s point, stating that it would be different had the local citizens wanted the sign added, but their view is that the group from Lexington is trying to push for the addition without being prompted by a local need. In response to Kennedy’s point of legal precedence, Jeroslow stated, “There’s precedence for not taking it down but what about putting it up?”
Agreeing with Jeroslow, Elkin resident Jennifer White approached the microphone stating that she also interpreted the group’s presentation to be framed as a religious effort. “Had this been something the town came forth to ask for I think it would be different.”
Other residents stated that, while they are regular church attendees, they feel that the possible religious backing of the group may make other groups feel alienated. “If we allow one group to put something up, what’s to stop another group from putting something up,” said resident Sam Bishop. “What is the purpose of putting something up on Town Hall?”
Local librarian Martha Smith was also in attendance and pointed out to the board that the brochure handed out by the U.S. Motto Action Committee included three quotes from the Bible as well as a statement explaining that their purpose is to promote Christian values.
“If the citizens of Elkin want it then the town should pay for it, not the private group,” said Mayor Lestine Hutchens.
The U.S. Motto Action Committee, founded in 2002, has funded the addition of the motto on public buildings including courthouses and town halls in 30 North Carolina counties and 15 cities, with others approved and awaiting funding. According to their Facebook page, the group’s mission is to assist in the furtherance of the nation’s motto, “In God We Trust,” on public buildings across the United States. Counties that already have approved of the addition include Yadkin, Iredell, Ashe, Alamance and, most recently, Wilkes.
After hearing the opinions of the citizens in attendance, the commissioners agreed to postpone action on the resolution until their next meeting, which will be held in August.
A public hearing for the town budget was also on the agenda, which predominantly discussed the water rate increase of 50 cents, or $6 annually.
Before opening up the floor for comments, Whitman explained that the increase was done under a state mandate. “For the last three or more years, we’ve received correspondence from the state saying, ‘you must raise water rates.’ We held off as long as we could, taking money from the general fund instead.”
“Nor would we be eligible for grants if we didn’t,” added Kennedy.
The water fund has been an issue in the past after large manufacturers such as Chatham left the area. As usage decreased, the town began selling water to other areas such as Surry County and the town of Ronda to compensate. Relatively new industry such as PGW has helped to keep the water bill lower for residents by paying taxes on the large amount of water used for manufacturing.
“New industry helps sometimes in ways you don’t understand,” explained Commissioner J.L. Lowe.
Funds are being set aside for future projects such as paving and water improvement that, according to the mayor, will need a serious look at in the near future.
A full list of the budget items may be viewed online at ElkinTribune.com.
Karen Holbrook may be reached at 336-258-4059 or on Twitter @KarenHolbrook00.