LAURINBURG — Sheriff Ralph Kersey is using Facebook to help raise money to put the words “In God We Trust” on the Scotland County Courthouse.
Organizers hope to use social media to raise $2,800 to display the motto on the courthouse and on patrol cars.
But the Facebook effort has also attracted detractors unafraid to post critical comments opposed to a religious reference on public property.
The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office Facebook post dated July 6 — that is signed by Kersey and Laurinburg attorney Michael Schmidt — explains why they think the words are so important.
“The glory of America and what has made this nation the wonder of all the nations of history, is that we have always stood on the principal that our basic individual rights are derived from God, not from government,” the Facebook post said. “Our system of government limits and divides government power while allowing maximum liberties to each individual citizen. Our political office holders have recognized the blessings of Almighty God on our land, from President George Washington up until recent times.”
The Facebook page has had nearly 600 responses to the post. As of Friday afternoon, there were 479 who liked it; another 87 who loved it; 15 who were angry about it; and three who were saddened by it.
More than 130 people have posted comments. Many like, Marcie Shaver, warned that the motto would land the county in court.
“Oops! Blatant violation of the ‘no establishment’ clause. Can your taxpayers afford a lawsuit?” she wrote on the public forum.
Tero Luikko of Finland seemed to agree and wrote on the sheriff’s timeline that he “better get that money collected as well, and maybe acquaint yourself with the Constitution.”
Kersey has responded to critics by writing that he had not been swayed by their posts.
“I have never entered any battle and not been equipped,” Kersey wrote. “I am okay with the comments from those with foolish talking. ‘In God We Trust’ will be displayed as planned on our facility and it will be placed on every bumper of every vehicle at our office as long as I am sheriff of Scotland County.”
Many of those who commented emphasize that they did not believe in God, but at least one poster expressed himself in a different way.
“I don’t support this. I’m Christian but do not feel this is an appropriate place to display such a slogan. Separate church and state. It isn’t that hard to do,” he posted.
But County Manager Kevin Patterson said county commissioners considered the ramification of possible lawsuit when they approved placement of the motto in May. As part of the presentation, county commissioners learned that the courts sided with Davidson County displaying the motto.
The U.S. Fourth District Court of Appeals in 2005 upheld a lower court’s ruling that the purpose of placing “In God We Trust” on a public building did not violate the establishment clause in not having a “legitimate secular purpose,”; it did not have have the effect of “advancing or enforcing religion,”; and that it did not result in an “excessive entanglement of government and religion.”
Mark Oxendine of Laurinburg made a similar argument on Facebook.
“This is legal; as the phrase “In God We Trust” is considered a secular national motto … fully supported by current case law,” Oxendine wrote in his post. “As a secular national motto, in support of our strong national pride, and illustrative of a solid moral foundation by those in official positions … I say go for it.”
He also urged that the county “do it without taxpayer money.”
“Do it classy and professional (like brass letters). Scotland County has enough ho-hum furnishings,” Oxendine wrote. “However, I caution against using this as a means to imply and/or display government support of any particular religious sect. Such could very well invite unnecessary litigation.”
Officials said no public funds will be used for the sign or decals.
John Hudson of Laurinburg in his post said he supported the plan.
“I see so many “preach” about separation of church and state. After perusing the Constitution I find no where does it forbid this type of sign. The First Amendment addresses freedom of religion, and freedom from a state sponsored religion. Since we, as citizens of this municipality, choose to put this up with our funds, there should be no issue. Were we using government funds it would be a different story. So back off people.”
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.