Pair suing Hamilton County support private, personal prayer effort

photo Brandon Jones, left, and Thomas Coleman, right, lead a rally on the second level of the Hamilton County Courthouse in this file photo.

Two men suing the Hamilton County Commission over the Christian prayers it holds during meetings gathered Tuesday with a Christian leader on UTC's campus to support his prayer initiative.

Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones, who initially sued county commissioners in June alleging a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, are both University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students who are helping the school's Secular Student Alliance.

They met Tuesday at the University Center with Corey Garrett, the 39-year-old director of Campus Christians, who began pushing for private and personal prayers at university events last spring.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, sent a letter in May to UTC officials challenging Christian prayers held at university events such as football games. University administrators are considering the letter, Associate Vice Chancellor of University Relations Chuck Cantrell has said.

"This is something we would fight for, the right to pray before a game," Coleman said. "There's no government or school sponsorship."

Garrett, wearing a white T-shirt that says "Need a Prayer ... Want a Prayer ... Let's Pray Now," said his purpose is to place prayer partners from various churches and student groups on campus and at athletic events to individually pray with fans.

He said his plan is not a reaction to or compromise over recent legal questions about local public prayers and is something he laid out last spring before the recent controversies.

"It's not for me to offer anything up to the university," Garrett said. "They must abide by the statutes and constitution. What I offer is for the body of Christ to come together."

Coleman and Jones said they want to make clear that, while the Secular Student Alliance opposes university-sponsored prayers over the loudspeakers at university events, the group wholly supports individual and group rights to prayer.

Both the Campus Christians and Secular Student Alliance are awaiting official recognition from the university, but their applications are pending.