Everyday Humanist Hero: Aleta Ledendecker

TheHumanist.com’s series Everyday Humanist Heroes celebrates our movement’s group organizers, activists, support staff, and volunteers making a difference in their communities. Who do you want to celebrate?

Aleta Ledendecker and I met in March 2018, when I was protesting the placement of multiple Ten Commandments displays in Cumberland County Schools in Tennessee. She supported and encouraged me to continue state-church separation activism even when the odds were against me. I would not be where I am today if not for Aleta Ledendecker, whom I consider a good friend and mentor. She is an incredible woman and an amazing asset to the secular, humanist, and free-thought communities and movements.

Ledendecker currently serves on the board for—and was one of the founding members of—the Rationalists of East Tennessee (RET), an affiliate of the American Humanist Association and one of the first freethought groups in the state. Additionally, Ledendecker established the Freedom from Religion Foundation East Tennessee chapter (FFRF-ETC) as a vessel to represent non-theists and fight against religious intrusions into government. Before retiring, she performed secular marriages and other rites of passage as a humanist celebrant through The Humanist Society.

Ledendecker has gained national attention with her complaints against government-sponsored religion. On January 11, 2016, she gave a secular invocation in front of the Oak Ridge (TN) City Council and was rudely cut off before her allotted time ran out. Despite facing discrimination, she was awarded the Nothing Fails like Prayer Award for this secular invocation which caught the attention of FFRF National. In July 2017, FFRF-ETC and Ledendecker faced severe harassment for bravely and successfully protesting against a Bible verse displayed in the Knoxville Police Department. These are just two of her notable successes.

Ledendecker is one of the most courageous people I know. Throughout her years as a Montessori educator, she taught countless children the importance of pursuing truth through skepticism, inquiry, and critical thinking. These children were fortunate enough to receive an education that emphasized inclusion, peace, diversity, and humanity for all humans. In 1978, she established a school—New Horizon Montessori, later renamed Little River Montessori—as a local testament to these values and principles. She stood up against public schools and governments when most people would not.

Additionally, Ledendecker is an avid outdoorswoman and traveler who loves camping, hiking, and enjoying nature. She is a lover of knowledge who is always learning new things. One notable example is her consistently learning different languages on Duolingo. In fact, in 2021, she was in the top three percent of French learners on the site.

Aleta Ledendecker forms meaningful connections with community members and those whom she serves. Because of her, I have built up enough courage and strength to pursue activism even when many times I do not succeed. Aleta Ledendecker and her husband, Carl, helped me attend the 2019 FFRF Convention in Madison, Wisconsin, which I still consider one of the coolest experiences of my life thus far. She has supported me throughout the years as a queer, non-binary person who was coming to terms with their identity. She counseled me through many big decisions in my life and has always been affirming of my journey as a fellow human being.