Mayor Tony Aikens told a standing-room-only crowd at the city council meeting Monday evening that the city has no plans to yield to the demand from a secular organization that it change the patches.
"The ball is back in their court," he said.
In a series of letters to the city over the past few weeks, the Madison, Wisc.,-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has claimed that the patches worn by officers on their uniform shirts and jackets are in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The foundation has threatened legal action if the patches are not changed.
Aikens said that after discussion with the police chief and the town attorney, he had decided to draft a response to the foundation.
A letter from Lenoir City Attorney James Scott to the foundation outlining the town's position was read to the City Council.
"The patch in question merely states the word religion, as such it does not endorse nor discriminate against any religious faith. It symbolizes our Police Department's attempt to protect the rights and freedoms associated with any sort of religion. Therefore we view it commensurate with the Establishment Clause."
The letter also explained the meaning of the patch to the officers who wear it.
"Our officers view the patch with natural pride and it is merely a 'statement.' Thus we view it as being protected under the First Amendment right of freedom of speech."
The council voted unanimously to send the letter
Councilman Eddie Simpson said he wished the issue had been challenged in the Supreme Court in years past.
"We've accepted too much in our lives letting people impose on us," he said.