FFRF applauds Tenn. city’s inclusive policy

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is celebrating a Tennessee city’s decision to allow an atheist invocation without interruption.

Back on Jan. 11, when Aleta Ledendecker delivered a secular invocation before the Oak Ridge City Council, she was cut off a little more than two minutes into her delivery. The minimum set time for such speeches is three minutes.

FFRF wrote to the City Council requesting that Ledendecker (an FFRF member) not be discriminated against and that she be allowed to redeliver her full invocation on some other occasion. The best solution, however, FFRF stressed, is to end the practice of legislative prayer altogether.

“Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch and the City Council in January. “The city of Oak Ridge ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion by inviting religious leaders to give prayers. The prayers exclude the 23 percent of adult Americans, including more than one-in-three millennials, who are not religious.” 

But if the Oak Ridge City Council insisted on having prayers at its public meetings, FFRF contended that the nonreligious and members of minority religions must be allowed to participate equally, too. It is illegal for the City Council to give less time to citizens because they are nonreligious or since a City Council member dislikes their message, FFRF said.

The Oak Ridge City Council heard FFRF’s request loud and clear, recently informing the nontheistic organization that it was changing the process for selecting the invocation speaker and that Ledendecker would be invited back.

“Formerly, the city permitted the Oak Ridge Ministerial Association to designate who would give the invocation at the beginning of each Council meeting,” City Attorney Kenneth Krushenski wrote back to Jayne. “Going forward, the city clerk, Mary Beth Hickman, will be responsible for this task.” 

FFRF cheers the change.

“Our preference is for no prayers at all at the City Council meetings,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “But if there are to be prayers, then everyone should be treated equally.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a dedicated to the separation of state and church with 23,700 nonreligious members nationwide, including almost 300 in Tennessee.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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