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WNC Humanists plan to provide posters of this type to the school system. Photo submitted.


The Treaty of Tripoli was one of several treaties signed near the turn of the 18th century designed to end piracy and privateering along the Barbary Coast of Africa.

The treaty dealt mainly with ensuring peaceful relations among ships at sea, but included this statement as one of its 12 articles: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Mussulmen (Muslims); and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Muhammad-following) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

Historians have argued about the intended meaning of the sentence and whether it even appeared in the original Arabic version of the treaty.

Originally published: 2013-11-21 19:35:05
Last modified: 2013-11-21 19:38:19

Humanists offer posters to schools

The Western North Carolina Humanists group has submitted alternative posters to Watauga County Schools following the school system's acceptance of "In God We Trust" displays.

The group's posters state, " ... the United States of America is NOT, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion," a quote from the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli. The treaty was signed in 1796, then approved by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams the following year.

The school system plans to accept nine of the posters, schools spokesman Marshall Ashcraft said Thursday. But unlike the "In God We Trust" posters, they will be displayed only at the request of school principals.

The WNC Humanists, based in Asheville, is a nonprofit organization of people who do not claim a religion, but aim to do "good for goodness' sake," said Vice President Cash Wilson. The group welcomes humanists, skeptics, agnostics, atheists and any others who question organized religion.

Wilson said the group learned recently about the successful attempts by the American Legion Post 130 to offer posters reading "In God We Trust" -- the national motto -- as gifts to the local schools.

The posters were originally declined upon advice from attorneys that they could construe a promotion of religion, according to the school system.

Rick Cornejo of the American Legion, who is also a Baptist minister, addressed the Watauga County Board of Education on Nov. 4, saying the displays did not promote a religion, but helped expose students to the nation's history.

Wilson disagreed with the claim in interview Thursday.

"Oftentimes, we have found that that couldn't be further from the truth, and it's just a way to slide in the back door, so to speak," he said. "... This is an attempt for specifically the Christian religion ... to basically indoctrinate, to blur that line of separation that our founding fathers created for us."

Watauga County Schools reversed course and accepted the "In God We Trust" posters after considering N.C. General Statute 115C-81(g)(3a).

The statute says school boards "shall allow and may encourage" the reading or posting of documents reflecting U.S. history, including, but not limited to, the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto.

"Local boards, superintendents, principals and supervisors shall not allow content-based censorship of American history in the public schools of this state, including religious references in these writings, documents and records," the statute says.

Wilson said the Humanist group offered the posters to the school system Tuesday and was "delighted" to learn Thursday that they would be accepted.

He said the WNC Humanists group would have considered legal action had they been refused.

"If the goal is to provide children with historical references, then they wouldn't have a problem with what we offered," he said.

Although the school system plans to accept the Humanists' posters at the central office, administrators' expectations for their placement within schools are different.

"There is an expectation that the posters that say 'In God We Trust' would be displayed in schools, and there is an expectation that principals will consider the display of the posters regarding the Treaty of Tripoli citation," Ashcraft said.

He noted that the Treaty of Tripoli is not specifically mentioned in the state statute, "although that is clearly a historical document."

The school system has not consulted legal counsel on this request, Ashcraft said.

Neither poster had been received or displayed in the schools as of Thursday, Ashcraft said.