The 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.
"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.
A city in Kentucky and a county in Illinois both defied the Freedom From Religion Foundation's warnings that Christian crosses on public property should be removed.
On Sept. 29, 2015, FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, asked the city of Wilmore, Ky., to remove a large, lighted Latin cross atop the city's water tower. After FFRF sent a follow-up letter in December, the city responded on Dec. 23. It stated that Asbury University, a Christian college on whose campus the city water tower stands, entered into a contract with Wilmore in 1976, and that the college owns the cross.
On Wednesday, FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne responded to the city, telling it that it is still unconstitutional for the cross to be displayed on city property, no matter who owns the cross.
In another case, Ogle County (Ill.) unveiled on Veterans Day (Nov. 11, 2015) a bronze memorial statue of a soldier kneeling in front of a Latin cross. Nine months before that, FFRF sent out a letter of complaint informing the county that the planned cross would be unconstitutional.
On Nov. 23, FFRF's Jayne contacted the county again and asked that the cross "be immediately removed or replaced with a symbol that does not show favoritism for religion in general, or Christianity in particular." The county responded on Jan. 8, briefly stating that the cross would remain.
FFRF is seeking local residents in Ogle County and the city of Wilmore to act as plaintiffs in possible legal challenges. Contact FFRF at 608-256-8900.
FFRF has more than 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 150 in Kentucky and 750 in Illinois.