On October 17, the Sumner County Commissioners in Tennessee voted to codify a new set of “Standing Rules and Procedures” to guide their meetings that references their allegiance to “Judeo-Christian values.”
The updated rules of conduct for a local government meeting wouldn’t be much interest to anyone outside the community—and arguably very little within the community—but one of the changes involved the addition of a preamble (on page 24). The paragraph is nothing more than hyped-up language promising that commissioners will do the job they were elected to do—which shouldn’t need to be stated at all—but the bigger problem is that it says their work must be “reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in our nation’s founding.”
We, the Sumner County Board of Commissioners as the legislative branch of Sumner County, recognize that all powers are reserved by the citizens of this county. In order to perfect the operation of our County government, to ensure that it is just, orderly, efficient, cost-effective and most importantly reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in our nation’s founding, as well as responsive and transparent to the people of Sumner County, our goal in serving the citizens of Sumner County is to exceed the requirements established in Tennessee state law and do hereby adopt these Standing Rules and Procedures.
Honoring supposed “Judeo-Christian values” isn’t just something they aspire to. It’s the most important thing they aspire to. And what are those values? Who knows. They don’t spell it out. But it certainly sends a clear message to non-Christians (and non-conservative Christians) that their needs will always be considered a lower priority.
Even at the meeting where these rules, including the preamble, were adopted 20-4, a few voices pointed out how this wording could be a problem:
Just minutes earlier, the county’s interim law director, Ben Allen, advised the group that the change could set the county up for costly discrimination lawsuits.
“I just believe that this would be a violation of the First Amendment establishment clause,” Allen told the commission. “The supreme court could change their mind on what ‘violation of the establishment clause’ means tomorrow. It’s very expensive to be the ones to find out if that’s the case.”
Nashville Attorney David Raybin says including language about Judeo-Christian values in the commission’s rules preamble is a clear violation of the first amendment’s ban against the government endorsing religion, and that it would be a “slam dunk” case in court.
“I think we need to be very careful we don’t cross over to something that ends up, taking more of our tax citizens’ dollars over the next coming years in litigation,” said Commissioner Danny Sullivan.
Allen, the interim law director, also said the phrasing could possibly be used in a complaint in case a county employee was ever fired. A hypothetical person could say she was let go because of her non-Christian faith, fairly or not, pointing to the wording as evidence the county discriminated against her.
The Christian nationalists on the Commission, including Matthew Shoaf, pushed back, saying they were just acknowledging history (which is false) and that they supported secularism. but shoving Christian references in places where they’re not needed is a hallmark of Project Blitz, the Christian nationalist playbook.
A few commissioners suggested this was a completely reckless and unnecessary move. If their legal director is warning them about the problem, and they’re opening the door to possible litigation, and all of it is is occurring by choice, what the hell are they thinking?
Those wise words were ignored.
… It is erroneous to assert that our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values. The concept of “Judeo-Christian values” did not even exist until the mid 20th Century, let alone at the time the United States was founded. To the contrary, the United States was founded by Enlightenment-inspired thinkers who valued reason and skepticism.
By adopting a Preamble officially promoting Judeo-Christian values, the Board violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, disregards the wall of separation between state and church, and disrespects the diversity of Sumner County’s citizens. We request that the Board immediately correct this constitutional violation and remove any reference to Judeo-Christian values or other religious ideologies from the Preamble.
None of that means a lawsuit is forthcoming. But the groundwork has been laid. The bottom line is that these commissioners adopted Christian nationalist language despite the advice of their legal counsel. And the statements made at the meeting itself, beginning at the 3:07:01 mark here, make it abundantly clear that the goal is to promote the false belief that conservative Christianity is foundational to our nation’s history and that it must be the basis for the county’s future.
Just consider the comments from Commissioner Tim Jones, who said, “As a Christian, I cannot operate from a position of fear. I serve God first, this county second,” before adding that the county would continue failing because people were not “standing up for what every one of you know is right, that claim to be Christians.” Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield also made it clear that they live in a Christian-majority community, so there was no need to pay any lip service to Muslims, Hindus, or anyone else.
These people are angling for praise from right-wing propaganda outlets.
They don’t give a damn about the people they were elected to serve.