Freedom From Religion Foundation Objects to Worship Service as Part of Governor-Elect Bill Lee’s Inauguration

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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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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.
Photo “Bill Lee Event” by Bill Lee. 

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4 Thoughts to “Freedom From Religion Foundation Objects to Worship Service as Part of Governor-Elect Bill Lee’s Inauguration”

  1. Gerald Barnell Fowler

    If Atheists don’t believe of God, why would this upset them. If it don’t exist why does it bother them at all. Our new Governor Bill Lee believes of a God and he has personal believes and he has every right to have his Christian family, friends and voters to have Christian Services at his swearing of his first moment of his Governor Swearing Night….if Atheists do not like it…stay away.

  2. Milt

    The last time I looked at a five-dollar bill it said, “In God We Trust”. We say in the pledge of allegiance, “one nation under God”. We take the oath of office on the Bible or some other religious document or instrument. The problem is that people misread the first amendment which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, . “. Whether you believe in a supreme being or not is your right. The constitution is not to protect you FROM religion but to keep the government from passing laws respecting the establishment of religion. In short, the government cannot tell you what religion is the law of the land. It should also be noted that also, within the first Amendment is the words which secure the right to free speech and/or to peaceably to assemble. The Service is not mandatory therefore if you disagree with it don’t go, that’s your RIGHT. But when you force your beliefs on me or others that is a violation of our rights to free speech or peaceful assembly.

  3. Terry

    To the FFRF: if you don’t like the worship service, don’t go – simple. The worship service isn’t the swearing in ceremony, it has no official function, you can pick and choose whatever event you want to attend, or not. And to the Tennessee Star, if you can’t support a celebration of Christian faith, maybe you ought to start the California Star instead, because Christianity is fundamental to Tennessee culture. That is evident in the fact that the worship service venue had to be changed in order to hold all the people who want to attend!

    Governor-elect Lee said during his campaign, it’s on record, that his religious beliefs are a most important part of his private life and that he will continue to seek that guidance in his public life. It’s no secret. But no, the Tennessee Star seems determined to pillory and snipe at Governor-elect Lee at every turn. It’s sad really, you’re beclowning yourselves.

    As for the Constitution, read Article IX, Section 2 of the Tennessee State Constitution: “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.”

    I wonder when the TN Star called and asked for comment, 11:59 last night?

  4. Kevin

    This whole issue is BS!

    First, is there any place where the State is forcing people to attend either event? The US Constitution prevents the Federal government from imposing restrictions on religions. I don’t see anything where anybody is being forced to attend either event.

    Second, when the US Constitution was signed, each of the “several” States had their own State recognized religion, but all other religions were free to express their religious beliefs. So if the atheist s want to express their beliefs, go for it. Fortunately, it won’t be at this inauguration! When you elect an athesist, then you can decide how you celebrate it!

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