The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to Tennessee Gov.-elect Bill Lee selling tickets to a government-sponsored religious service.
A concerned Tennessee member contacted FFRF to report that the governor-elect’s Inaugural Ceremony includes a religious service. Local media reported the upcoming Saturday, Jan. 19 event as a “star-studded prayer service at the Ryman Auditorium.” The ceremony reportedly will include performances by five musicians, all of whom perform specifically Christian religious music. The governor-elect’s website sold tickets to the event, offering those who pay $7,500 “reserved section seating for two at the Inaugural swearing-in ceremony and the worship service.”
FFRF is asking Lee to honor the U.S. Constitution, and all the Tennessee citizens he is soon to represent in office, by refraining from including religion in his swearing-in event. Additionally, FFRF has submitted a public records request for information pertaining to the worship service.
“This defiance of the U.S. Constitution is a disappointing way to start your time as governor of Tennessee,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in a letter to Lee. “As you take your oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, FFRF urges you to reflect on the Constitution’s guarantee that each of your constituents are entitled to a secular government that does not take a position on matters of religion.”
It is well-settled law that government may not promote, advance or otherwise endorse religion. It may neither promote one religion over another, nor religion over nonreligion. A government-sponsored Christian worship service violates this principle, FFRF reminds Lee.
“Including religion in an inauguration event is both unnecessary and inherently divisive,” FFRF Co-President Dan Barker says. “It gives the message to non-Christians that they are political outsiders in their own communities.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 350 members and a chapter in Tennessee. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.