Rumble In Rutherford: Tenn. Sheriff Posts Commandments Display In County Jail

Sheriff Arnold’s blatant disregard for the First Amendment is the kind of thing that’s just begging for a lawsuit, and it seems he needs to be taught a few lessons.

Some Religious Right ideologues know that the courts have barred Ten Commandments displays from government buildings. The problem is, some of those ideologues just don’t care what any court says.

Take Sheriff Robert Arnold, head of law enforcement in Rutherford County, Tenn. In 2012, he was given a framed copy of the Ten Commandments, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, the Nashville Tennessean said. Arnold liked the display so much, that he decided to hang it up in the lobby of the county jail.

This is obviously an unconstitutional move, and Arnold should know better. The Tennessean noted that almost eight years before Arnold took his elected post in 2010, a federal court in Nashville said that the Rutherford County Commission violated the First Amendment when it posted a similar Commandments display in the county courthouse.      

But does Arnold care about that decision? Not so much.

“That was before me,” Arnold told the Tennessean. “I really don’t know all the details about that.”

Even if Arnold did “know all the details,” it doesn’t sound like he’s too concerned with them.

“Those are documents this country was founded on,” Arnold told the newspaper. “Those are documents that all laws are derived from in this country. The job is to enforce the laws of the land, and those are three documents of laws of the land. Those are the founding three documents of the laws of this country.”

Arnold’s actions have not yet resulted in a lawsuit, but one of the plaintiffs who brought the earlier case against the Rutherford County Commission didn’t expect this problem to arise again.

“I just don’t understand it,” Steve Cates, who said he is Christian, told the newspaper. “If I want to honor the Ten Commandments other than the way I live in my life, I can post them on my house if I own the property. I can post them in my yard.”

Cates, who told the Tennessean he has attended a Baptist church in Murfreesboro since 1945, went on to say that he would prefer government officials respect minority rights and beliefs.

“I’m Christian,” he said. “Suppose one day I’m not in the majority. And then do I want those in the majority to use government facilities to promote their religion, like the courthouse, the sheriff’s office, the public square?”

Cates is exactly right. The Constitution exists in part to protect the rights of minorities, and a federal court did just that when it kicked the Ten Commandments display out of a government building in Rutherford County last time.

But people like Arnold think they know better than the courts and that the Constitution doesn’t apply to them, which is a pretty disturbing conclusion for a law enforcement official to make.

Arnold’s blatant disregard for the First Amendment is the kind of thing that’s just begging for a lawsuit, and it seems he needs to be taught a few lessons. The United States was not founded on the Bible or any other scripture, and the citizens of the United States are bound by the Constitution.

If Arnold doesn’t understand those concepts, maybe he needs a refresher course from a judge.