FFRF urges Tenn. governor to focus on the Constitution, not “saving” state residents

Bill Lee

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter of complaint to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee for using official government communication to preach to state employees.

A Tennessee resident informed the state/church watchdog that on Nov. 2, Lee sent an official email to all state of Tennessee employees promoting the Christian story of the birth of Jesus. The email reads:
Dear State employees,
Governor and First Lady Lee invite you to celebrate the holiday season with one of the state’s greatest traditions—Christmas at the Tennessee Residence.
The theme for the Christmas décor at the Tennessee Residence this year, “Heaven and Nature Sing,” will portray the larger-than-life magic we experience in the delight and merriment of the holiday season, the beauty of Tennessee’s natural landscapes, and the joy of the coming of Christ and the salvation of the world.
The Tennessee Residence will be open to the public for tours Friday, December 1 through Sunday, December 3, and Thursday, December 7 through Sunday, December 10.
Families, individuals, and groups are welcome to register for a tour of Tennessee’s home that is sure to bring joy and holiday cheer this Christmas.

“The message went far beyond the mere acknowledgement of Christmas or other end-of-the-year holidays or festivities,” FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker write to Lee. “Couched as an invitation to view decorations, it inserted an unnecessarily divisive and sectarian message.”

Speaking of the “coming of Christ and the salvation of the world” is something that should be reserved for the pulpit and is totally inappropriate as an invitation sent to diverse citizens coming from Tennessee’s highest executive officeholder, FFRF emphasizes. To non-Christians and nonbelievers, this reference feels like a slap in the face, with its implicit message that unless they become the right kind of Christian, undergoing the right kind of rituals, they will be eternally damned or otherwise denied “salvation.”

As governor of Tennessee, Lee is tasked with upholding the Constitution of the United States — including the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. By promoting Christianity in his official capacity as governor, Lee does the opposite.

And Lee serves a religiously diverse state that consists not only of Christians, but also Jewish, Muslim, atheist and other non-Christian constituents. When promoting Christianity through official actions, Lee needlessly alienates constituents, such as the complainant, who are part of the 37 percent of Americans that is non-Christian, as well as the nearly one-in-three Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated. Lee is sending the message that he and his office prefer those who subscribe to Christianity over all other religions.

The governor’s office belongs to “We the people,” not the office’s temporary occupant, FFRF points out. As governor, Lee has been given significant trust by citizens in the community, including those who do not share his specific religious viewpoint.

Out of respect for the freedom of conscience of all residents of the state of Tennessee, FFRF is demanding that Lee refrain from further unconstitutional proselytization.

“Lee has a constitutional duty to remain secular in his communications with his constituents,” Gaylor and Barker conclude. “Residents of the state of Tennessee didn’t elect Lee to be told how to achieve ‘salvation,’ but to lead in matters pressing to all state residents, regardless of religious alignment.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation serves as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including almost 500 members and a chapter in Tennessee, and works as a state/church watchdog to safeguard the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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