"The separation of church and state is to keep the government from interfering and coercing people into one specific belief. Simply posting something does not coerce someone into one specific belief,” says the sheriff, who obviously is a constitutional scholar in his spare time when he’s not chasing after moonshiners.
Crafty as always, Cocke Countians are showing the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution along with the Ten Commandments in an attempt to fend off any pesky lawsuits from liberal atheists.
This isn’t a novel tactic. Around the country, conservative Christians try to circumvent the Constitution by surrounding the Ten Commandments with copies of other documents. The new state law helpfully mentions a few as possibilities — the Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Tennessee Constitution.
The idea is to claim that the Ten Commandments has become so secularized that it’s devoid of religious meaning. But judges don't always fall for this ruse. They have barred these so-called historical parks if they think counties actually are endorsing one religion over another, which obviously is what Cocke County is doing.
Here’s another problem that’s popped up in Ten Commandments fights. Public officials can't limit their "historical" displays to documents favored by conservative Christians. In Ogden, Utah, for example, a cult of UFO believers wanted their own monument and, in that case, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a city showing the Ten Commandments must also display monuments espousing more unpopular beliefs.
Cocke County is a pretty strange place. We wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few devil worshipers back in those hills.