Obama shares Hamilton County Commission position on public prayer

Obama shares Hamilton County Commission position on public prayer

August 15th, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Commissioners and observers stand for an opening prayer during the morning meeting of the Hamilton County Commission in this file photo.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should prayer be allowed before public meetings?

After a Washington odd couple chose to offer support of prayers in public meetings in a U.S. Supreme Court case, two Hamilton County residents suing to stop public prayers locally say they were surprised but will continue to press on.

Attorneys for the Obama administration and House and Senate Republicans last week filed "friend of the court" briefs in the case of Greece v. Galloway.

The case involves a New York woman who is suing the town of Greece, N.Y., to halt prayers before public meetings. In that case, the woman is arguing that prayers at the town council were exclusively Christian and therefore endorsed Christianity over other religions.

The high court case closely parallels a federal case in Hamilton County, where residents Thomas Coleman and Brandon Jones are suing to halt prayers before Hamilton County Commission meetings and have them replaced with moments of silence.

Coleman said Tuesday he was disappointed by the White House's move.

"We were extremely shocked and certainly saw this as causing more problems for freedom of religion down the road. It certainly seems like the Obama administration was passing the buck on this one," he said.

"It's going to come back to the Supreme Court in some form or another, and it will continue until there is some resolution that pleases everybody, which we hold is a moment of silence, which is inclusive of all religions," Coleman said.

Jones said he suspects Obama's move was sprinkled with a little politics and is likely an olive branch to the GOP.

"I'm not surprised he's taking the position that he has. ... I think he's trying to build bipartisanship and probably trying to appease the more right-wing members of society and show that he's their president, too. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but I understand what he might be doing," Jones said.

Robin Flores, the attorney representing Coleman and Jones, said the White House's involvement doesn't change a thing for him.

"I think that would have some weight with the justices, and it might work out in favor of the town of Greece, but it's not going to change our strategy," Flores said.

Flores has filed a request to enter a late friend of the court brief in the Galloway case but has not heard back from the Supreme Court.

The filing is late because the deadline to file in the Galloway case came before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled against Flores' request to halt prayer in Hamilton County until the local case was concluded.

Flores, and the county's attorney Steve Duggins, both said in July the Galloway case would likely settle all government prayer cases.

So far, federal appellate courts in New York, Virginia, Illinois and Colorado have ruled against allowing prayer at government meetings. But courts in California, Ohio and Georgia have upheld it. Part of the Supreme Court's duty is to provide uniformity of law, Flores said.

Duggins said Tuesday he was pleased to see the White House come out in favor of prayer at public meetings.

"I'm always glad to see others joining in support of our position. Anytime you get some added support, it's gratifying," Duggins said.

The Hamilton County case has a scheduling conference this month in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling in the Galloway case by next summer.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com.