Spectacular setting: 40 to become U.S. citizens in Smokies park ceremony

The setting is spectacular, the event close to sacred.

On Thursday morning, 40 people born elsewhere in this world will become American citizens in one of the most beautiful settings in the United States - the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

For the Smokies and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, it'll be unique.

Don K. Ferguson, area federal court historian, said in his recollection dating to the late 1950s he cannot recall an area federal judge holding a naturalization ceremony in the park. He said a judge some 10 years ago gave the oath to a group of people at a national cemetery in the Chattanooga area.

Thursday's outdoor naturalization ceremony is part of a nationwide event featuring 16 national parks and sites, including Ellis Island, Yosemite National Park, the Lincoln Memorial, the USS Missouri battleship at Pearl Harbor and Great Teton National Park. The point is to observe the centennial of the National Park Service as well as National Constitution and Citizenship Day.

Many of the events elsewhere in the U.S. will be Friday.

The idea came from Rebecca Fanning, national outreach manager for the federal courts, which is part of the Administrative Office of the U .S. Courts in Washington, according to the Eastern District.

Fanning, in a news release, compared our national parks to "green cathedrals" that can inspire and evoke a greater connection to what it is to be an American. 

Ferguson said the 40 who will become citizens in the Smokies are coming from about 14 area counties. The setting is smaller than the sites where people typically become citizens in this district, Ferguson said, thus the smaller number who will take the oath.

Thursday's event at 10:30 a.m. will be recorded on video and compiled with the other naturalization ceremonies. It's expected to be posted on uscourts.gov and YouTube.

The ceremony will be on the lawn of the park's Administration Building near the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Chief Judge Tom Varlan will preside.

Fourth-graders from Pi Beta Phi Elementary in Gatlinburg will lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Singer Lakieta Bagwell, who performs at Smoky Mountain Opry, will sing the national anthem.


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