Roane County commissioner explains voting against 'In God We Trust'

ROANE COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- County Commissioner Steve Kelley knew as soon as the idea came up, he was fighting a losing battle.

"My wife asked me not to speak out. And I didn't in that meeting. But I told her after the meeting that the gloves were gonna have to come off," he said.

But taking off the gloves meant admitting something he doesn't like to flaunt. He's an atheist.

"Frequently the reaction when someone learns that I'm not a believer is pretty hostile," he said.

And while he tells me that hostility is uncomfortable, he's not letting it stop him from voicing his opinion.

"Since the courthouse belongs just as much to me as it does anyone else, I don't want that on my courthouse," Kelley explained.

Still he says the main reason he voted "no" goes much deeper than his personal beliefs.

"In order to maintain the purity of church and religion, they can't intertwine," he insists.

But the commissioner who proposed the idea, Randy Ellis, disagrees.

"We implemented the national motto. So there's no issue there of church and state. So anybody that wants to challenge us, will have to challenge the government first," Ellis said.

"If you have a majority of Catholics, who decided to impose a bunch of things on say, the baptists, the baptists surely would object," Kelley said.

So what sort of response did he get after the vote, voicing such strong beliefs in a heavily religious area?

"Overwhelmingly supportive. People are saying thank you, you're not alone. We appreciate what you've done," he said.

Despite his strong opposition to this idea, Kelley says he doesn't want to be known as the "atheist commissioner."

He does not plan to bring a lawsuit to try to stop the words from being added, But he'd consider helping out if someone else did.

The project will cost around $4,300, and will come entirely from private donations.

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