Opponents seek court's order to stop commission's prayers - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Opponents seek court's order to stop commission's prayers immediately

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- The pleas vary; last Wednesday, the visiting pastor asked that Hamilton County Commissioners receive "the tongues of the learned and the lips of the wise."

That he offered a prayer at all, is why those suing in federal court, are asking a U.S. District Judge for an injunction barring prayers at commission meetings, until their case is heard.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has said anytime there's an infringement, or violation of  Constitutional protection, there is a harm," plaintiffs' attorney Robin Flores says.

Flores' plea, filed Sunday, cites a four-pronged legal standard, and at least five similar federal cases to argue that commissioners' decision to ignore his clients' demands to cease praying, and continuing to invoke Jesus in those prayers, violates First Amendment protections barring endorsement or establishment of a particular religion.

"By saying it over and over and over and over, they (commissioners) are favoring Christianity above all other faiths," Flores says. "Invoking any specific deity is a violation of the Establishment Clause."

Judge Harry S. Mattice will preside over the case for the Court's Eastern District of Tennessee. He has not set dates for a hearing, nor issued a ruling on Flores' motion for an injunction.

Last Wednesday, several opponents asked commissioners to replace the opening prayer with a moment of silence.

"It gives everybody an opportunity to pray to their own God," Brooke Washburn told those gathered. "Or, they can sit in a moment of silence if they don't believe in one."

"That's what my clients want," Flores says. "That's a remedy."

But other remedies may exist.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry believes nothing bars a private citizen from reciting a prayer, or asking those assembled to join him/her in prayer during portions of the meeting set aside for public comment.

"All our rules do is hold our speakers to ten minutes each," he says. "They're not supposed to talk about zoning, and they can't attack somebody, by name. But most everything else is fair game."

Henry tells Channel 3 that Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor is drafting recommendations and advice for commissioners to consider when they meet Thursday.

But the Motion for Injunction also names Taylor as a defendant. Commissioners must retain another attorney to represent them.

"I don't know what he (Taylor) is going to tell us, I haven't seen it," Henry says. "But unless he, or that Judge says otherwise, we'll be praying when we open Thursday's meeting."


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