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At Monday’s Oak Ridge City Council meeting in Tennessee, Aleta Ledendecker of the Rationalists of East Tennessee became the first atheist to deliver an invocation address there.

But not every council member was there to hear it, and Ledendecker wasn’t even able to deliver the full speech because the Mayor cut her off early.


Council member Trina Baughn wrote in her unofficial meeting minutes that she refused to listen to what Ledendecker had to say:

Prior to the meeting, I notified the city manager and the mayor that I would be stepping out of the room during the invocation. This was not an act of protest, but simply a choice to not participate in something that I believed might assail my beliefs. While I may not support the content of the participant’s statements (I’ve yet to hear them), I do support their right to participate in the process just as much as any other religious representative.

She’s within her right to do that. It’s just extremely petty that she thinks her beliefs will be assailed if she’s forced to listen to someone who doesn’t buy into the Jesus story. Especially when the rest of us have to listen to Christian invocations every other week.

And what exactly did Ledendecker’s assault on Christianity look like? Take a look:

Good evening Council of Oak Ridge.

As I solemnize these proceedings, I want to acknowledge the service of the council members and share appreciation for their willingness to be a part of the governmental process. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who take on the burden of public office. Thank you for your service to the citizens of Oak Ridge.

Now, let us not bow our heads, but hold them high with eyes open so that we may keep them focused on the issues facing Oak Ridge in order that they may be considered with reason and compassion.

When this body comes together to govern, they do so with the consent of the citizens of Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge is a very diverse community with many different views and opinions.

I urge the members of the City Council to face the future and their civic duties with full recognition of their responsibilities to all the citizens of Oak Ridge. I urge you to maintain our trust that you will recognize and serve equally the growing diversity of your constituents with favoritism toward none. Realize that this growing diversity encompasses not only many religions, but a growing contingent of those who have no religious affiliation, the “nones.”

This community is made stronger by the diversity within it. Over 200 years ago our Constitution established a principle of inclusion as a shining example for the rest of the world, which has contributed to the astonishing success of our nation. When we forget or ignore it, we turn our backs on the wisdom of the founding fathers and tarnish their legacy, weakening our society in the process.

It is incumbent upon this council to make the best decisions for the community — the entire community. In this regard, I ask that you use reason, wisdom and empathy in your deliberations today, taking into account the implications your decisions will have now and into the future.

As this new year begins, remember that in honor of separation of church and state, no deities need to, nor should be invoked at the openings of your meetings. Doing so gives the appearance if not actual governmental preference to one group of citizens over others. The council is a civil body not a religious one, so should recognize that secular authority in government is not only sufficient, but preferable. James Madison, founding father and 4th President said it well:

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov [sic] will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Mayor and council members I appreciate the opportunity to offer an inspiring start to your meeting.

Now let this honored council proceed with its business, remembering also to honor all of its constituents, while upholding the principle of separation of church and state.

Thank you.

That’s what Baughn was so afraid of. And if her faith can’t handle that, it makes you wonder how she’s able to remain in the bubble everywhere else in her life. Ledendecker told me that another council member also joined Baughn in stepping out of the room during her invocation.

Oh — and see that underlined word “President”? That’s where Mayor Warren Gooch cut her off, even though she was only about 2:30 into her allotted 3:00 minutes.

Because why let an atheist talk when there’s a Pledge with the words “Under God” to be recited?

The only response, then, is for even more atheists to request to deliver the invocation in Oak Ridge. They just need to get accustomed to it. Atheists are used to this sort of treatment, but we shouldn’t have to be.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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