The East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is fed up with religion in government and wants citizens to help FFRF end such entanglements.
To this end, it has put up a new billboard in the Knoxville area. The billboard, which is on display along heavily traveled I-40/I-75 near downtown Knoxville, reads: “Offended/concerned about religion in public schools or government? Contact ffrf.us/report” The billboard went up on April 4 and will remain until May 1. The same design will be used in Dayton, Tenn., the site of the famous Scopes “monkey” trial (immortalized in Inherit the Wind), for three months this summer in time for a scheduled trial re-enactment.
The billboard is urgently required in Tennessee. The current state governorship has proven to be constitutionally transgressive from the start, with FFRF strongly objecting to Gov. Bill Lee’s religion-infused inaugural. Then, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor published an op-ed in the Knoxville paper in 2019 chiding him for his exclusionary approach when he declared a day in October as an official day of prayer and fasting. Lee has also come under criticism for his unscientific approach in handling the pandemic, exhibiting a particular reluctance to ask state residents to don a mask.
The billboard is the latest in a series that FFRF has erected in the Volunteer State. For a number of years, it put up a multihued billboard area in the Knoxville stating: “God & Government — A Dangerous Mix: Keep State & Church Separate.” And it raised a billboard near the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville spotlighting a freethinking student at that institution — and the pride he feels at breaking free from religion.
FFRF thanks its East Tennessee chapter, including its President Aleta Ledendecker, for making all this happen.
“Tennnessee is rife with state/church violations,” says Gaylor. “In enabling citizens to be constitutional watchdogs, we’re trying to make sure that the state and local governmental entities adhere to our founding principles.”
Ledendecker echoes that sentiment from the ground.
“Here in Tennessee, many elected and school officials turn a blind eye toward the wall of separation between state and church,” she says. “We wanted to let ordinary citizens know they have a means of protesting that can make a difference.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 400 members in Tennessee and the East Tennessee chapter. 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. Photo: (left to right) FFRF East Tennessee chapter members David Hughes, Angel Jones, Joe Mitchell, Alistair Elliot, Gregg Deneweth, Terry Ray, Shannon VanBreda, Real VanBreda (holding Bailey the dog), Aleta Ledendecker, Eliot Specht. Carl Ledendecker is the photographer.