Tension over Lenoir City Police uniforms continues more than
five months after a secular group first demanded the word "religion" be removed from the
Mayor Tony Aikens said Monday evening at a regular Lenoir City Council meeting that
the group has sent yet another letter to city officials claiming the patch, inscribed with the words
"Industry, Education, Religion," promotes religion and is therefore unconstitutional.
letter, the "third or fourth" of its kind, Aikens said, was sent within the last month and is
basically the same as the others.
The mayor said the city is sticking to its original stance
made in late March.
"We've told them our position and that's what we are going to continue
to do," Aikens said after the council meeting. "We're not going to waiver. We are going to continue
on the path that we are on."
Aikens authorized City Attorney James Scott to respond.
Lenoir City first received a letter from the organization in January, but did not respond.
After a second letter was sent, council authorized Scott to return a letter firmly standing against
the foundation's assertions.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation threatens possible
litigation in the letters, but Scott said he does not believe the quoted cases are
"I asked them to send me case law that is directly on point, analogous to these
patches because the way I look at these patches is very similar to the dollar bill saying, 'In God
We Trust,' and that's perfectly acceptable," Scott said. "It's a nondenominational statement. That's
FFRF constitutional consultant Andrew Seidel said the litigation is "mostly" Supreme
"You can't endorse religion over nonreligion," Seidel said. "The Supreme
Court has said that in something like nine or 10 other cases. ... The seal is considered an
endorsement. We have a lot of precedent that city seals, logos, patches, anything like that if they
have religious imagery they have been found to violate the establishment clause.
not any doubt this is a violation of the First Amendment," he said. "The question remains how is it
going to be cured. That is up to Lenoir City and the police department to determine. Our goal is to
get that off the patch, and we are going to continue to work at that until we've
Seidel said a couple of local people have complained about the patch and other
"issues going on in Lenoir City."
"From our experience, I can tell the backlash for
complaints in Tennessee is worse than it is in Rhode Island, typically," Seidel said. "Our
complainant may not want to make himself or herself publicly known. That is going to be our biggest
concern. We don't want them to suffer ridicule. It is more than that. People lose their jobs over
this kind of thing."
Though Seidel said the group hopes "to resolve this without having to
resort to anything legal" because of the expense of lawsuits, the group isn't ruling out the option
to take the matter to court.
Both sides are hoping the other buckles.
"I expect to
hear from them again, yes, but I don't know. Let's hope they change their position," Aikens
He is confident the residents stand behind the city's decision.
"I feel like the
community is certainly supportive of my office and city council and that they want us to continue on
the path that we are on. We're certainly going to do that," Aikens said.
In other business,
● Heard from Lenoir City resident William Harvey, who complained about a
drainage ditch problem on his property at 177 Rock Springs Road. Even though there is no recorded
drainage easement and the property does have an existing natural drainage ditch, Harvey wants the
city to resolve the issue.
"There is a problem. I don't have a right to use my property,"
Harvey said, claiming Fifth Amendment rights.
Scott said the city is by law only allowed to
purchase property that serves a public purpose by nature.
"Based upon what you've described
thus far to me in person and in letter, I don't think we, technically at this point and time, have
the constitutional authority to purchase your property or under an obligation to remedy it," Scott
● Heard from Dr. Cormac O'Duffy, a native of Ireland, who raised an issue with
ambulance service costs.
"What I didn't realize, relatively new to the United States, is the
cost. ... I thought this would be covered by an insurance or some other means, but no. What I
subsequently discovered was that Rural Metro and a lot of the other ambulance systems are run on a
business basis and can in fact set their own rates for services," O'Duffy said, adding the ambulance
service should be run on a nonprofit basis. "It should be a free service."
O'Duffy the city has no control with the matter, and O'Duffy should talk with Loudon County Mayor
Estelle Herron and county commissioners.
● Adopted Lenoir City Utilities Board's
drought management plan, which gives LCUB power to curb nonessential water usage during a drought.
● Approved the personnel committee's recommendation to change Shelley Herron's
part-time deputy clerk position to full-time.