With display in Ronda

With display in Ronda with Ten Commandments are, sitting from left, Jim Jordan, Ronda commissioners JoAnn Royal and Helen Porter and Ronda Town Clerk Tracy Romans. Standing from left are Eddie Settle, chairman of the Wilkes County commissioners; Kevin Reece, Ronda commissioner; Manual Wood; and Rudy Holbrook, chairman of the Wilkes County Board of Education.

A resolution calling for leaving the Ten Commandments on a Ronda Town Hall wall as a portion of a display is expected to be on the agenda for a vote at the Nov. 9 Ronda town board meeting.

Ronda Commissioner Kevin Reece said he and a sign company representative hung framed copies of the Ten Commandments and Declaration of Independence, along with a framed U.S. flag, on a meeting room wall in Ronda Town Hall Thursday. Reece said he first received indications of support for doing this from the majority of the Ronda board members.

He said he brought up the possibility of displaying the Ten Commandments in Ronda Town Hall on the town’s Facebook page on Sept. 30 after several Ronda citizens told him they believe “many people have sadly forgotten the story of America and the principles our country was founded on.”

Reece shared a 2 ½-page letter from an attorney with the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation to Ronda Mayor Rheajean Benge that said displaying the Ten Commandments on town property would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and told why. The letter was dated Oct. 21.

Reece explained that when he sought advice from Eddie Settle, chairman of the Wilkes County commissioners, Settle told him about the process used by the Wilkes commissioners to avoid legal challenges when they posted the Ten Commandments in public 21 years ago.

In 2000, the county commissioners approved a resolution authorizing two displays with the 10 Commandments and other historical documents “fundamental to the foundation of the legal codes and governmental systems” of the U.S., North Carolina and Wilkes County. Wilkes County Attorney Tony Triplett researched the matter then.

The other documents included the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, Justinian Code, N.C. Constitution, legislation creating Wilkes County and Wilkes County Seal.

One display was put on a wall in the ground floor foyer of the newly-completed Wilkes County Courthouse and the other on a commissioners meeting room wall in the Wilkes County Office Building. Both displays remain in their original locations.

Other local governments have displayed the Ten Commandments as part of similar displays.

Reece said this action is consistent with advice Ronda received from an attorney with the N.C. School of Government. “If the purpose (of the display) is mainly religious with some secular items thrown in, that is going to be impermissible under the First Amendment. If the display as a whole is demonstrably educational or historical, then including the Ten Commandments is likely permissible,” said the attorney.

Reece said the resolution approved by the Wilkes County commissioners in 2000 will be the basis for the resolution the Ronda commissioners will consider at their Nov. 9 meeting. He said the resolution was placed on the agenda for a vote at his request.

The Ronda board meets in a town hall room called the activity center, which is considerably larger than the room with the Ten Commandments, U.S. Flag and Declaration of Independence. Reece said he is encouraging citizens to voice their views on displaying the Ten Commandments during an open forum at the first of the Nov. 9 meeting.

Commissioners Helen Porter and JoAnn Royal said in interviews Friday that they will join Reece in voting for the resolution. All three were among people present for a brief gathering Thursday at Ronda Town Hall after the display went up. Others there were Settle and Rudy Holbrook, chairman of the Wilkes County commissioners.

Ronda commissioners Kay Luffman and Sandra Simmons said Friday that they haven’t yet decided how they would vote on the resolution.

Luffman said, “I am a Christian and I believe in the Ten Commandments, but I want to try to make sure we are doing everything we can to avoid legal problems related to separation of church and state.” She said she plans to discuss the matter with friends who are involved in politics and also pray about it.

Simmons said she thought the words, “In God We Trust,” were to be posted at Ronda Town Hall and added that she supports this. Simmons said she supports the Ten Commandments but cited the need for caution to legal problems involving separation of church and state.

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