Hamilton County commission, attorney sued for praying at meetings

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.