published Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Hamilton County Commission adopts new prayer policy

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry, center, works with other commissioners in this file photo.
Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry, center, works with other commissioners in this file photo.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Hamilton County policy regarding invocations
Hamilton County policy regarding invocations
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The Hamilton County Commission approved a new prayer policy today, further formalizing the body’s intent to allow public prayer at meetings.

Commissioners unanimously voted for the policy, which calls for the creation of a countywide clergy database. County staffers will send out invitations and those who respond will be allocated a spot to lead a “prayer, reflective moment of silence, or a short solemnizing message,” at each weekly commission meeting. Staffers will book speakers on a first-come, first-serve basis.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said employees will start sending out invitations this week to enact the new policy as soon as possible.

Taylor asked commissioners to not comment publicly or to keep comments limited at Tuesday’s meeting because of pending litigation. None spoke about the policy, but all voted in favor of it.

The commission faces a lawsuit in federal court for its use of Christian prayers at meetings, which plaintiffs call a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause forbidding the government from endorsing any specific religion. The commission’s prayers often invoke Jesus’ name.

Brandon Jones and Tommy Coleman, the two men filing the suit, asked the commission to hold a moment of silence, rather than allowing local pastors to lead Christian prayers. The commission has not stopped the practice, though they said the new policy should allow for diversity of opinion and belief.

Coleman said the new policy “is pure propaganda.”

Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice will hold a July 26 hearing to consider whether to grant a preliminary injunction to halt the prayers until he can rule on the lawsuit.

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

What do you think of the policy? Leave a comment on Facebook.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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