published Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Prayer issue goes to court

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry says he's not surprised by a suit filed in federal court here Friday that asks the commission to stop holding Christian prayers at its meetings. That's because he, other commission members and County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, also named in the suit, had ample warning that such a suit was possible but took no action to halt the conduct that prompted it.

In May, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the commissioners asking them to stop prayers before meetings. The letter pointed out that "every 2012 prayer so far has been given 'in Jesus name'." The regular use of that invocation in official prayers, the foundation's missive correctly pointed out, amounts to a government endorsement of a specific religion -- Christianity, in this case. That, the letter added, violates the Establishment Clause and was outside the scope of a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case that set standards for legislative prayer.

A prompt and thoughtful response to the May letter by commissioners could have resolved the prayer issue and likely avoided Friday's filing. The commission could have stopped the prayers or it could have continued the practice of offering prayers but done so in a manner that was more inclusive of faiths and beliefs other than Christianity. It did neither.

Instead, commissioners said they would study the issue, referred the matter to Taylor, who promised to review the letter and then advise commissioners how to respond. He has not done so yet, but his personal view of the matter, however, should be well known. Earlier this month, Taylor opened a commission meeting by offering a prayer that ended "... we ask in your son Jesus' name, Amen." That invocation in that setting surely violates the U.S. Constitution.

The suit filed Friday by Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones, both residents of Hamilton County, is a logical outgrowth of the commission's and Taylor's refusal to address the issue. Both have had several weeks to make a public statement about the issue and to change policies, but have not. They've even refused to hold a moment of silence rather than a prayer when asked to do so at a June 6 meeting.

Perhaps the suit will force the commission to act. Though eliminating all prayer before a meeting is preferable, they need not do so. The commission could ask for a moment of prayer where all present could pray -- or not -- as they chose. Or they could create a system in which representatives of many faiths were invited in turn to offer a prayer. The latter would avoid any charge that commissioners were endorsing a specific faith through prayer.

Lawsuits sometimes are necessary to clarify points of law. That's not the case in this instance. The law is clear. Public government-endorsed prayers that support a specific religion are banned. If commissioners and Taylor do not understand that, then Friday's lawsuit is merited.

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DJHBRAINERD said...

When they are done with this distraction is there any way to sue the commisioners who lead the prayers for the legal fees (taxes) involved. Why should part of the taxes I pay go to support a personal agenda of a few who are obviously unqualified to make a prudent decision concerning established law

June 16, 2012 at 1:39 a.m.
joneses said...

What I do not understand is how someone can be so weak minded and insecure that something as beautiful as prayer intimidates them. I think people who continue to attack Christianity are very weak. This is just another example of the left's agenda of invoking total control.

June 16, 2012 at 7:09 a.m.
LibDem said...

In today's paper, Commission Chairman Henry is quoted, "I wish they'd have given us an opportunity to put some kind of policy into effect." I think Mr. Henry was saying that the Commission was considering beginning to think about the possibility of planning to study the available options of addressing looking at this issue. Indeed, the claimants should have waited the exercise of this rational process.

June 16, 2012 at 7:47 a.m.
Fendrel said...

Joneses,

It has nothing to do with being weak minded or strong willed for that matter. It is a question of appropriateness. Are you really not able to grasp that concept?

June 16, 2012 at 8:46 a.m.
conservative said...

A prayer in ending in Jesus name does not establish a religion. That belief is preposterous! One doesn't even have to read the First Amendment to be able to refute and even ridicule that nonsense.

The establishment of a national religion is prohibited by Congress in the First Amendment : CONGRESS shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.....

Furthermore, an establishment of a religion would have to be WRITTEN into law. A public prayer is VERBAL.

June 16, 2012 at 8:55 a.m.
DJHBRAINERD said...

Fendrel: It is willfull ingnorance on his part. The lawsuit is a looser, everyone who follows these type things knows that. But a couple of our elected officials want some free face time so they can claim to their supporters that they are standing up for christian values. It is a red herring and other than the tax $ involved is a nonissue for me. One last thought: Why don't the folks wanting to pray meet outside before the meeting for a voluntary prayer for those who want to participate?

June 16, 2012 at 8:57 a.m.
librul said...

Oh, Mr. Henry says he and the Commissioners weren't surprised that Tommy and Brandon would act to end the in-our-face, ongoing, arrogant violations of the Constitution their xtian prayers represent. And the fact that Reverend "attorney" Taylor took the lead surely didn't serve as a hubristic challenge to the supremacy of the law they are sworn to uphold. Gimme a break!

Earth to Mr. Henry: You should have had a "policy" in place since the first day you took office and that "policy" would have served as an expression of your understanding of your oath and your responsibility to see that your personal views on religion were not allowed to invade the operation of OUR government which serves people who have different traditions or hold the belief that your fairytale puppeteer in the sky should not be allowed to overtly influence your formulations of PUBLIC policy. You can all puff up and let June Griffin come down from the mount in Rhea County to lead your crusade but, in the end, you are the ones who will be getting a lesson in American government - a lesson you have demonstrated that you desperately need.

I urge contributions be sent to attorney Flores to assist in the prosecution of their case - THAT is the most neaningfil expression of our desire that the Constitution be respected and the PUBLIC'S interests be served.

June 16, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.
Easy123 said...

Conservative,

Your argument has already been debunked many times.

June 16, 2012 at 1:24 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

"What I do not understand is how someone can be so weak minded and insecure that something as beautiful as prayer intimidates them." - joneses

Public prayer is nothing but a gaudy spectacle meant to draw attention to one's "holiness." There is nothing beautiful or reverent or inspiring about it. If one wants true communion with his/her god, then let them pray in private and let the words issue from the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds, which is where true prayer - for those inclined to believe and indulge in it - should take place. Public prayer is itself a shameful display of those who are so "weak minded and insecure" as to believe that some sky daddy is actually giving ear to the supplications of their group spokesperson who is offering up hastily chosen words on their behalf. You can't get much more weak minded and insecure than that.

June 16, 2012 at 2 p.m.
ChrisSteves said...

Conservative - Your argument is strong and true and has never been debunked as others may say. Both the US Constitution and TN Constitutions are clear. Sorry some folks hate religion but keep your hatred to yourself.

June 16, 2012 at 3:30 p.m.
Easy123 said...

ChrisSteves,

You're wrong. It's been debunked every time he's made it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everson_... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Board_of...

James Madison, Detached Memoranda (Talking about Amendment I) "In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion."

Correct, the US and Tennessee Constitutions are clear. And prayer by government officials in public buildings is against both.

Keep your ignorance to yourself.

June 16, 2012 at 3:35 p.m.
DJHBRAINERD said...

Crissteves:

Will you be willing to help pay the settlement/legal fees when the county looses this lawsuit. It is not from a hate of religion that I ask but as a taxpayer. Pray before the meeting starts, pray outside, or pray in an ajoining room. Even a generic please help us be wise and prudent will pass this legal challenge. It is really not that hard to get around. I'm praying for a compromise right now, in private. Remember last year it was prayer before a football game that got all the atention and the good folks of Soddy met in an endzone and had their prayer without all the faux persicution.

June 16, 2012 at 3:55 p.m.

Simple prayer is not an endorsement.

Prayer by a person in a position of authority is.

Don't believe me? Go to a county commission meeting, ask to say a prayer involving Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, Amaterasu, Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But yes, this will be a waste of money, and I suggest every Hamilton County tax payer send the County commissioners a bill.

June 17, 2012 at 1:04 p.m.

Hey if you do not want to hear them pray then either stay your ass outside until they are finished or stay home. Stop the stupid lawsuits to just get attention. If the courts would make the people bringing these suits liable for all charges then this BS would stop.

June 18, 2012 at 8:08 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

In other words, if you are not protestant Christian, you should shut up and remain a second class citizen, right?

June 18, 2012 at 8:59 a.m.
Easy123 said...

Love,

Your bigotry is showing.

June 18, 2012 at 9:01 a.m.
rogerdodger said...

Easy,

Your stupidness is showing! I guess like your favorite leader the next thing you want to take away is freedom of speech.

June 18, 2012 at 10:39 a.m.
Easy123 said...

Public officials mandating prayer in government buildings is unconstitutional. But I bet you didn't know that either. Do some research before you write. You won't look as ignorant next time.

June 18, 2012 at 10:42 a.m.

Easy, I am not sure how telling someone that if they don't want to hear something then don't listen is being a bigot. I was simply offering a simple solution to solving a problem without having to waste taxpayers money on frivolous lawsuits. But seeing how you are such an Obama lover wasting taxpayers money means nothing to you, so you must not be on yourself or you would be inclined to be upset at such waste. I am willing to wager the 2 clowns that are doing this never attended a meeting before and only want their name in the press, I could be wrong but highly doubt it. It does seem however your only interest is to continue your childish remarks from last night, so be it. I am sure you will have some response because your goal is to have the last post so you can I am done here and with you.

June 18, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.
Easy123 said...

love,

It's the definition of bigotry. Look it up.

That isn't a simple solution. It's a theocracy. Why not a moment of silence?

The lawsuit isn't frivolous. They will win the lawsuit. You don't have to attend the meeting to know that the actions of the commission are unconstitutional.

The Commission is wasting the tax dollars by praying on everyone else's dollar. And I guess since you're an Obama hater, you don't have to back up anything you say with facts and spout off every lie you hear from Fox News or your conservative sources. Keep living in ignorance.

Childish remarks? You mean calling you out on your lies and misinformation? I guess it's hard to admit when you are wrong. So I'll do it, you've been wrong about everything you have said on here.

Did you get mad and run away? Don't pout too long.

June 18, 2012 at 11:29 a.m.
rogerdodger said...

Hey Easy Al, I thought this country was founded on Christian principles. I did not realize that God offended so many people. I guess that is the reason this country is in the shape it is in. Because Atheists fools like you dont want God involved in anything well that is until you need him.

June 18, 2012 at 11:53 a.m.
Easy123 said...

This country wasn't founded on Christian principles.

Depends on which "god" you are talking about. I'm sure Allah might offend you.

"God" doesn't need to be involved in anything political or government. It's against the Constitution.

I'll never need a "god"/imaginary friend.

This country is in the shape it's in because of people like YOU. Ignorant bigots who bask in their own stupidity.

June 18, 2012 at 11:58 a.m.
librul said...

Love said: "Hey if you do not want to hear them pray then either stay your ass outside until they are finished or stay home" and with this statement Love demonstrates the essence of intolerance. Of course, Love is not saying that these equal American citizens under the law should be REMOVED from the meeting simply because they object to unconstitutional open xtian prayer in government meetings. What he or she is saying is that, in the face of such blatant discrimination against all beliefs other than xtianity by their government, that persons who object should acquiesce to the discrimination, accept second-class citizen status under the law, thus deny their constiututionally guaranteed equality under the law and voluntarily leave the room.

From this we can gather that Love, were he or she in a position of authority in our government, would only consider persons welcome in government meetings who were in agreement with him or her. I believe Most Americans would consider such an attitude undemocratic, tyrannical, authoritarian, absolutist, arbitrary, arrogant, domineering, autocratic, despotic and, yes, most certainly, bigoted.

BIGOT - Noun - a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics, or race.

Ergo, you, Lovetheusaorleave, are a bigot.

June 18, 2012 at noon
rogerdodger said...

Easy Al said: I'll never need a "god". It is funny how all Atheist say that while they are doing well, but even Madalyn Murray O'Hair known as the queen of Atheism was said to have cried out for God's help before she was murdered.

June 18, 2012 at 12:23 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

but even Madalyn Murray O'Hair known as the queen of Atheism was said to have cried out for God's help before she was murdered.

And you know this how?

June 18, 2012 at 12:27 p.m.

Why is that Muslims can lay their towels down anywhere and pray and that is fine? If Americans want to continue a tradition of praying before meetings or before sporting events asking the Lord to watch over people we are called bigots. I think there are a bunch you that really need to look at what you are trying to argue about. It is amazing that you say prayer in government buildings is wrong but allowing Illegal immigrants to stay in this country is not. What a joke!

June 18, 2012 at 12:34 p.m.
Easy123 said...

I'd like to know the same thing Ikeithlu.

Were you there when she was kidnapped and murdered, rogerdodger? Or is this just another tale Christians tell to discredit atheists?

June 18, 2012 at 12:35 p.m.
Easy123 said...

love,

You can pray in public right alongside Muslims. That is not the argument. Pray in public all you want.

Government mandated prayer by officials in public buildings is unconstitutional.

Allowing the children of illegal immigrants to stay in this country isn't wrong.

The only joke here is you.

June 18, 2012 at 12:38 p.m.

I haven't seen Muslims praying anywhere they like, is this some great problem that you've experienced somewhere in this country?

No? Oh, so it's a made-up story that has nothing to do with reality, much like those places with Sharia law or the judge who said he was a Muslim...except he didn't.

Anyway, you can pray before a meeting as you like, in your private capacity. Having the public official specifically single out one religious tradition or figure, now that's not acceptable, not when it's a public meeting. They are, of course, welcome to pray in their private capacity at whatever events they choose.

I think you really need to see what you are arguing for, which so far has been to tell people if they don't like what they're doing, they should just shut up about it. That's the kind of dogmatic response that tells us how what you want is wrong. You don't care about others enough to give them a say, you just say...don't like it? Tough, let me do as I want.

Or would you accept my right to offer prayers as I wish at this county meetings? No?

BTW, sporting events are a multitude of things. Professional sports are private endeavors, not run by the public, as opposed to say high school sports which are often run by public schools. As such, there's a clear distinction. Nobody's bothered NASCAR about their prayer meetings. They're adults, and not acting in a position of governmental authority. This is distinct from the high school principal or football coach who IS a representative of the state.

Hope you can learn to tell the difference.

June 18, 2012 at 1:29 p.m.
jazzman said...

joneses said... 'just another example of the left's agenda of invoking total control'

that's a pretty funny statement,,, considering the amount of control the 'church' exerts world wide, let alone taking a very casual review of history on 'church' control...

I wonder if the commissioners ever started a meeting ...without a prayer.... or is it a compulsion?

lovetheusaorleave said..

'It is amazing that you say prayer in government buildings is wrong but allowing Illegal immigrants to stay in this country is not. What a joke!'

enjoyed your 'apples' to 'oranges' comparison... certainly a good example of a joke.

the continuing joke is ... Jim & Tammy, Roberts, Falwell, Robertson, Swaggart, Hazzard, Barnes, et. al... along with all the rest of the current frauds, charlatans you barely hear about...

June 18, 2012 at 1:47 p.m.
Fendrel said...

Anyone...

Please tell me why Christians are insisting on the right to have public prayer when Jesus himself said to NOT pray in public but rather go into your closet and pray in private so that your heavenly father can reward you in public?

June 18, 2012 at 2:23 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

I'm not sure Jesus is interested in the outcome of a football game or the agenda for a meeting. Shoot-I can't even get him to attend to children dying of water-borne disease in the developing world. Somehow it seems rather selfish to pray before meetings-why would Jesus or God concern himself with such silly things when more pressing problems need attention?

June 18, 2012 at 3:11 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

"Why is that Muslims can lay their towels down anywhere and pray and that is fine?" - lovethe...etc.

"...even Madalyn Murray O'Hair known as the queen of Atheism was said to have cried out for God's help before she was murdered." - rodgerdodger

Those are two perfect examples of the complete irrationality of the xtian conservative thought process. They make up things out of thin air just because they think they sound good saying them.

There is no place in this country where Muslims kneel and pray while serving in a governmental capacity, like the arrogant christians who insist on praying at our county commission meetings. I would love to see the outcry of christians if there were any Muslims on the commission who did get down and kneel in prayer to Allah before the meetings. The very ones who are here saying that we are making much ado about nothing would themselves be screaming loud enough to make the earth tremble if it were Muslims, or any other religious sect for that matter, who were claiming their "right" to kneel and pray while serving the people in a government building...or even at a football game.

As for Madalyn Murray O'Hair, there is no first-hand account of how she died. We know she died horribly, in the most brutal fashion, but it is only wild speculation as to what she actually said at the time of her death.

But since when do the irrationalists need facts and truth to make their point, right? As long as it sounds good to them and helps them to win their game of one-upmanship over liberals and non-believers they will keep saying it - science, facts, truth, and logic be damned.

June 18, 2012 at 4:16 p.m.
Fendrel said...

Again, they miss the point...what if Madalyn DID cry out to God in the last moments of her life? What exactly does that prove?

From a Christian's point of view, if a Christian experiences despair or fear as they die, does that prove God's absence? Then why should someone who didn't believe in God and then reaches out in the last seconds of life be any more convincing of His presence?

June 18, 2012 at 4:41 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

As a non-believer, I don't really care who prays. But for my Jewish relatives, I cannot forget that more than half of them were wiped out 65-70 years ago by people who thought THEY WERE RIGHT, and had the only ticket to salvation. Anything that leads us towards a theocracy should not be allowed, especially when those who insist that it is okay do so from a position of being certain that they are RIGHT and it is their sacred obligation to set the rest of us straight.

June 18, 2012 at 4:57 p.m.
rogerdodger said...

The 3 men that told how they killed the family were the ones that said it on mulitple occasions. I was not there nor were you but I love the way it makes me wrong and you right. What a bunch of fools. I did not muslims lay their towels down and pray at government buildings in Chattanooga. But I have been around the world many times and have seen them do it when ever and where ever they are when it is time for them to pray. I forget that most of you idiots never have been outside the communities you hide in. See the world and maybe you will learn something about it.

June 18, 2012 at 6:26 p.m.
librul said...

Oh, well then, Roger has been across the pond and observed that Muslims in countries where they are a far larger component of the population - a majority even, in theocratic countries even, observe the dictates of their religion and pray at the appointed times wherever they are - in public, even.

He seemingly fails to recognize any sort of distinction between that and how, in our melting pot of a country, our Constitutional republic places no restriction on personal prayer - but also says that NO religion can be given preference in venues established by the government, thus protecting the rights of conscience of ALL our citizens.

It seems to me that concept has been so hashed and rehashed in these forums that no one could fail to see the distinction. Do these people think that County Commission meetings are just informal, personal gatherings of "good 'ol boys" that do not carry the greatest political power of any such gatherings in the County? Do they not see the commissioners as agents of their government? Do they think the Commission is not bound by the strictures of the federal and state Constitutions? I'm beginning to wonder!

June 18, 2012 at 7:28 p.m.

Apparently we're supposed to believe this unsubstantiated story about the claims of a bunch of convicted murderers? Even if they had said such a thing, and I can find no genuine evidence of it, why would we credit their testimony? They are not people i would recommend listening to about anything. But I guess we should overlook that since it discredits an atheist, so that's fine. Not even a problem that it's just a made-up story. It has truthiness to it.

As for prayers overseas, the horror of it. We must send our forces overseas to save the people of these foreign countries from the scourge of people praying.

That seems to be the point. Great, should we also save Pamplona from the Running of the Bulls, Monaco from the scourge of Formula 1 (I know a guy who always complained about that one actually.), and the Vatican from a Papal Address? And think of the Amish in this country! How many people are inconvenienced by one of their horse carriages!

Of course, we can't deal with somebody like Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. They're doing God's work. It's in their name.

Seriously, I don't even care if they do stop and pray, as long as they don't block a hallway or function as a public official. If they block a halfway, that's fire safety issue, clearly not bias. If they function as a public official, again, same problem as Christian prayer.

June 18, 2012 at 8:44 p.m.
rogerdodger said...

Got to Love the libatard calls someone a bigot when looking back anyone that does not fall in line with what he/she thinks they area bashed to no end. But I am sure you can because you are a Osama Obama supporter. Hey happy the people involved were Atheist as well but I like they way you left that out, jsut like a typical dummycrat to tell half truths. I am done with you fools.

June 19, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.
pudgyponderer said...

Marsh v Chambers 463 U.S. 783 is the Supreme Court case referred to in the article if anybody wants to check her out. Seems like alot of time and energy could have been saved had someone just emailed those commissioners. But it made for a really interesting newspaper feed. Also, and probably more relevant, here is an article about the Court's recent actions towards legislative prayer...http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-17/prayer-cases-turned-away-by-u-s-supreme-court-justices.html.

Don't mean to be antagonistic, but it seems as though the commissioners are in the wrong here. And since my tax dollars are in this too, I think an immediate end is the only logical response. Drop the prayers. Drop the suit. Get on with more important things.

June 19, 2012 at 12:26 a.m.
pudgyponderer said...

I got bored and kept reading about this...Marsh is the last time the Supreme Court ruled on legislative prayer so that law is binding over anything else, but there is a 6th circuit (tennessee's federal court) case called Coles v Cleveland Board of Education that will probably be relevant. The 6th circuit struck down all prayer before those meetings as unconstitutional but the ruling was pretty heavily criticized. Marsh definitely leaves the door open to prayer but regulates it rather heavily. The Hamilton County case should be pretty interesting to see how much leeway the courts give these guys, but it seems like direct invocation of a specific religion by a commissioner is pretty clearly unconstitutional. Is anybody else reading the law differently?

June 19, 2012 at 1:02 a.m.
Exusiai said...

See I get where these people are coming from, however I have an issue with it. Because of groups such as this I Have been robbed of my Constitutional right to pray at a football game, OR to bring a sign to that game with a bible verse on it.

So the Freedom From Religion folks are not just fighting for the rights of people to not have to hear a "Christian Prayer" they are also Fighting to Trample and bury the rights of Christians.

June 20, 2012 at 4:39 p.m.
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