MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A local organization is hoping to catch your attention while you’re driving. The East Tennessee chapter of Freedom From Religion Foundation, or FFRF, put up a billboard message referencing the separation of church and state.
The billboard was installed on Monday and can be seen on Highway 129 in Maryville if you’re heading north.
East Tennessee FFRF chapter president, Aleta Ledendecker, says the billboard is up now simply because it happened to be when the space was available and she hopes the message gets people thinking.
The billboard reads: “God & Government, A Dangerous Mix. Keep state & church separate.”
“Our government is really supposed to be a secular government. Lots of people in East Tennessee are very comfortable with the idea of inserting religion into government and I think this is a very important message for people to see,” said Ledendecker.
Ledendecker says FFRF’s message is in support of the First Amendment and they chose this spot in Blount County simply out of convenience.
“The billboard wasn’t targeting any particular issue, just the general idea of keeping state and church separate,” she said.
Bryan Abell has driven by the billboard and describes it as, “Disturbing. The sign itself will get you thinking if you’re a moral thinker. I think it promotes people to think more of government and less on God. To remove God’s moral character from government, in my opinion, our founding fathers used the Bible to create the founding documents.”
LMU professor Akram Faizer, who focuses on U.S. Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, says FFRF’s message is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment and he sees nothing problematic.
“The only time speech, let’s say a billboard, could be problematic is if it’s seen by the courts as an incitement to imminent violence of lawlessness. That’s not applicable here. The key thing here is the government is not involving itself in this speech, it’s not trying to regulate it, or it’s not disallowing it,” explained Faizer.
The billboard will be up for the next four weeks.
“I just hope a lot of people see it and it starts a conversation,” said Ledendecker.
WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to LAMAR Advertising to see what guidelines they have for billboard content. We have not received a reply yet.