The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to Tennessee Gov.-elect Bill Lee reportedly selling tickets to a worship service as part of his inauguration.
The 2019 Inaugural Worship Service Saturday will feature Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans, Steven Curtis Chapman, Nicole C. Mullen, Matthew West and others, The Tennessee Star reported Tuesday. The service at 8:30 a.m. CST Saturday was scheduled for the Ryman Auditorium, but due to overwhelming demand, it has been moved to the Grand Ole Opry House, the governor-elect said on Facebook.
The worship service made the atheist organization upset.
According to a press release, FFRF sent the governor-elect a letter asking him to “honor the U.S. Constitution, and all the Tennessee citizens he is soon to represent in office, by refraining from including religion in his swearing-in event. Additionally, FFRF has submitted a public records request for information pertaining to the worship service.”
A copy of the letter is available here.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne said in the letter addressed to Lee, “This defiance of the U.S. Constitution is a disappointing way to start your time as governor of Tennessee. As you take your oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, FFRF urges you to reflect on the Constitution’s guarantee that each of your constituents are entitled to a secular government that does not take a position on matters of religion.”
FFRF said in its press release, “The ceremony reportedly will include performances by five musicians, all of whom perform specifically Christian religious music. The governor-elect’s website sold tickets to the event, offering those who pay $7,500 “reserved section seating for two at the Inaugural swearing-in ceremony and the worship service.”
Laine Arnold, Lee’s press secretary, declined to answer these questions posed by The Star:
1. Did the Lee transition team make a mistake by including worship event tickets as part of the $7,500 donation for the entire inauguration? Or is FFRF mistaken?
2. Did the Lee transition team make a mistake by making this worship event part of the inauguration ceremonies paid for by the transition team rather than a separate event paid for and hosted by a private group, which Gov-Elect Lee was in attendance?
Arnold did say, by email, “Governor-elect Lee looks forward to celebrating the inauguration with Tennesseans from across the state and participating in the Inaugural Worship Service on Saturday.”
The tickets to the worship service are being offered on Lee’s transition website. There is no charge listed at checkout, and no mention of the $7,500 donation being mandatory. The checkout does ask for information including your name and address, but not credit card information if you select only the service.
The inauguration is organized by the 2018-19, Bill Lee Inaugural Committee, Inc. The committee is led by Stuart McWhorter, Chairman, and Kim Kaegi, Executive Director, according to The Chattanoogan. Kaegi led Haslam’s inaugurations in 2011 and 2015.
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