The mayor of a Tennessee county has refused to remove a Bible verse inscription from a courthouse despite a complaint from a prominent atheist group.
Henderson County Mayor Dan Hughes said that he was surprised to receive a complaint letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) last month regarding the Bible verse that has been engraved on the county courthouse for over 50 years.
"I wasn't expecting anything and had not been contacted about the verse or really believed half the people in county even knew the verse was on that side of the cornerstone," Hughes said, according to WBBJ.
In the June 30 letter, FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert stated that a "concerned local resident" alerted the organization about the Biblical inscription.
"We understand that a Bible verse is etched on the wall of the Henderson County Courthouse in Lexington, Tennessee. The verse reads, 'Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: Mercy and truth shall go before thy face. Psalms 89:14,'" Markert wrote.
The FFRF attorney argued that the inscription violates the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause, adding that it is "inappropriate" because "it conveys government support for religion." She urged the mayor to remove the verse from the courthouse wall "as soon as possible."
In response to the FFRF, Hughes stated that most of the Henderson County residents believe in God. "Our community is based on the belief of a true and living God," the mayor wrote.
Hughes claimed that he has received nothing but positive feedback regarding his decision and said he hopes to add another Bible verse, Psalms 33:12.
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD: and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance," the verse states.
Last week, the FFRF released a statement, saying they were "alarmed" by the mayor's decision to keep the inscription on the courthouse wall.
The organization pointed out that the Supreme Court has ruled that displays at courthouses that constitute religious endorsement violate the Constitution and that the First Amendment mandates that the government remain neutral between different religions and between religion and nonreligion.
The group also said that the significant Christian population in the county is irrelevant and does not justify the display.
FFRF co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker mailed another letter to Hughes, asking him to reconsider his decision.
The atheist group claims to have more than 350 members in Tennessee and over 29,000 members across the U.S.