published Friday, June 15th, 2012

Hamilton County commission, attorney sued for praying at meetings

In this frame take from a video, Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor says a prayer before the beginning of the Hamilton County Commission meeting.
In this frame take from a video, Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor says a prayer before the beginning of the Hamilton County Commission meeting.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Should the county commission be allowed to pray before meeting?

Two Hamilton County residents sued county commissioners and County Attorney Rheubin Taylor in federal court today for prayers the body holds before its meetings.

The complaint, filed by Attorney Robin Flores on behalf of Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, argues that the prayers violate rights guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In May, Patrick Elliott, an attorney with the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a letter to commissioners, asking them to discontinue prayers before meetings, citing the regular use of “in Jesus’ name” to conclude official prayers.

Commissioners have taken no official action to consider the letter or change their practice.

Taylor last week said he’d reviewed the letter and would advise commissioners at the appropriate time. The following day, he personally led the prayer, closing with a similar invocation of Christ.

“The acts and omissions of the defendants in the prayer practice stated herein are a blatant endorsement by government of the Christian religion that any reasonable person would see as an endorsement of the Christian religion to the exclusion of all other religions,” the complaint said.

The plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction against the prayers, a ruling that holds the practice unconstitutional and costs and attorney’s fees. They also requested a jury trial.

For complete details, see tomorrow’s Times Free Press.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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