Atheist group provides invocation before Lenoir City Council meeting

Hugh G. Willett


LENOIR CITY — A secular invocation by an East Tennessee Atheist organization at the Lenoir City Council meeting Monday night was followed quickly by several nonsecular invocations from community church leaders.

The official invocation was delivered by Aleta Ledendecker, corporate secretary for the Rationalists of East Tennessee.

"Now let us not bow our heads, but hold them high, with eyes open," Ledendecker said.

She urged council members to face the future with full recognition of their responsibilities to all the citizens of Lenoir City.

"I urge you to maintain our trust that you will recognize and serve equally the growing diversity of your constituents with favoritism toward none" she said.

Ledendecker was followed by Ron Jordon, assistant pastor of First Baptist Church of Lenoir City who said a short prayer praising the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

Pastor Tommy Patterson of the Maranatha Church of the Harvest in Lenoir City said a short prayer followed by the comment, ‘I'm glad we live in a country like this."

Ledendecker said her invocation is the first of a series of such secular messages her organization plans to present at governing bodies around East Tennessee. The organization began to plan such events in May 2014 after the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Galloway v. Greece ruled that local government bodies could allow nonsecular and secular invocations without violating the First Amendment.

"Everyone needs to be represented. They cannot discriminate," Ledendecker said.

In January, RET sent letters to several government bodies in East Tennessee. Lenoir City responded positively. The organization will be speaking before the Clinton City Council in May.

Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens said the decision to give the organization the chance to deliver the invocation is the same opportunity the town would give to any members of the clergy.

"They requested the chance to speak and they are welcome to speak," he said.

RET was founded around 15 years ago. According to the group's website, there are no required beliefs to be a member, but discussions are usually framed in the context of a natural universe that can be explained through scientific means.

James Harole, a member of Patterson's church, was wearing a baseball cap that read ‘Man of Faith.' He said he was at the meeting to show solidarity with his church members and to support the right of all to express a diversity of opinions.

Councilman Bobby Johnson Sr. said he wasn't sure why the organization felt it needed to make its statement at a City Council meeting, but he said he supported their right to express their opinions.

Lenoir City has faced secular challenges before.

In 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded the city remove patches on the Lenoir City police uniforms that displayed the word religion. Mayor Aikens declined to change the patches.