Oak Ridge, Tenn., mayor cuts off secular invocation in mid-sentence

1secular aletaThe mayor of Oak Ridge, Tenn., cut off Aleta Ledendecker’s secular invocation in mid-sentence prior to the City Council meeting on Jan. 11.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Mayor Warren Gooch and the City Council on Thursday, protesting the constitutional violation. FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 250 in Tennessee.

“The City Council must ensure that your invocation policy does not discriminate against atheists and freethinkers,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote. “Additionally, a public apology to Ms. Ledendecker for the City Council’s discriminatory treatment of her is clearly warranted.”

Oak Ridge allows up to three minutes for opening prayers or invocations, but Ledendecker, an FFRF Life Member, was cut off in mid-sentence with more than 30 seconds left. A video recording shows the invocation beginning at 0:0:24, and Ledendecker is harshly cut off by the mayor at 0:02:48, two minutes and 24 seconds into her invocation. It is followed immediately by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Read Ledendecker’s full invocation here.

“To our knowledge, the City Council has never cut off a religious invocation mid-sentence prior to the expiration of this allotted time,” Jayne wrote. “We are writing to request assurances that the City Council will not discriminate against nonreligious invocations, or the citizens delivering them, in the future. We also request that the City Council permit Ms. Ledendecker the opportunity to present another invocation—and allow her three full minutes—at her earliest convenience. The best solution, however, is to discontinue invocations at future City Council meetings altogether.”

“This is not only bad policy, but very bad manners,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Such discrimination and censorship shows the harm of entangling religious rituals with government.”

FFRF holds a “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” contest for those who give secular invocations at public meetings. To learn more, click here.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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