The controversial monument bearing Biblical scripture in front of the high school football field house will be modified to comply with state and federal laws, which means the Biblical scriptures will be removed or covered.
That was the unanimous decision of the Madison County school board Tuesday night, following a nearly two-hour closed session to discuss the issue.
The closed session followed public comments from three citizens who had signed up to speak on the issue. All three speakers, Anna Martin, Jess Martin and Theresa Gordon, spoke in favor of leaving the monument just as it is. Loud applause followed each speaker’s comments.
A fourth speaker, Corey Morrison, who had signed up to speak about the monument did not attend.
Board member Robert Hooper made the motion to modify the monument, saying he did so “with great consideration and concern for all students.”
Board member Cindy Nash seconded the motion.
Chairman Greg Wilkes said superintendent Allen McCannon was authorized to order the modifications, with board approval.
As soon as the announcement was made, there was a mass exodus of the 150 — 200 people who had showed up for the meeting, most in favor of the monument. Many mumbled and shook their heads as they left the high school cafeteria where the meeting had been relocated to accommodate the expected large crowd.
Earlier, in the meeting’s “teachable moment” segment, school board attorney Cory Kirby of Harben, Hartley and Hawkins, outlined what he said he saw as the board’s three possible options for the situation – to do nothing, modify the monument or move it off of school property. Kirby told the crowd that nobody can interfere with a person’s practice of religion, but that the school board, as a publically subsidized entity could not legally take any action to advance or prohibit the practice of one religion over another.
“This is the framework the school board must use,” Kirby said.
Gordon spoke on behalf of the monument first, saying she believed it was her duty as a Christian to speak up for the monument.
“We are not here as haters, we are here to love all,” she said. “It seems as if these (atheist) groups are here as haters, willing to spend millions to remove God from (our society), which means they are antichrists by definition – they must have hatred in their hearts to fight so hard to remove Him from this small object that was placed for others to enjoy.”
She said the school board, as leadership, was held to a higher accountability.
Anna Martin said she supported the monument and that she disagreed that the scripture on it violates the First Amendment. She said people have been brainwashed to believe that the amendment provides a “wall of separation” between church and state.
“We do not have to bend or bow to the demands of these groups,” she said.
Her husband, Jess Martin, spoke last, saying that in this instance, turning the other cheek was the wrong thing to do.
“We cannot let them take advantage of our rights as a Christian nation,” he said. “This is the South, the Bible belt of the world.”
Chairman Wilkes thanked the speakers for their comments, and for the respect the audience afforded them adding that Madison County is a great community that is passionate about their beliefs.
“And this board is no different than you are,” he said.
During the closed session, Rev. Tim Peek, pastor of Ila Baptist Church, was asked by an audience member to say a prayer. He asked other ministers in the crowd to join him and about 16 ministers gathered near the podium to pray.
Most of the crowd consisted of middle to older aged residents. Very few students were in attendance.
The monument has gained state and national attention since its unveiling in August. Two different groups sent letters to the school system in recent weeks demanding that the monument be removed, saying the Biblical scriptures on the monument violated the separation of church and state.
McCannon said there was no time frame at this point for the monument’s modifications.
Meanwhile, the identity of who decided to place the scripture on the monument remains a secret. The monument was donated by North Georgia Monuments and All Sports Consulting and Construction. Tim Huguley of North Georgia Monuments said recently that the plans for scripture on the monument were made by someone from All Sports. He said he thought the first name of the person was “Clint,” but he didn’t know the last name.
There is a large sign for All Sports at the high school football field, but it includes no phone number. The Madison County Journal filed an open records request last week with the county school system seeking any documents related to All Sports. McCannon said there are no such papers to turn over.
“There are no documents with All Sports,” he said, adding that the only record of All Sports being involved with the monument is the inscription on the actual monument.
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