Hamilton Co. Commission can still open with prayer, for now - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Hamilton Co. Commission can still open with prayer, for now

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

Hamilton County Commissioners will continue opening their meetings with prayer, at least for now. It is a small victory as a legal battle plays out about whether any government meeting should include faith-specific prayer.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion Friday about the injunction filed in Hamilton County to have prayer stopped at the Commission meetings. It concluded the prayers could continue but the issue will ultimately have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This is a positive step that will allow us to amount to further evidence as to the violation of the constitution that's being committed by the Hamilton County Commission," says Thomas Coleman.

Thomas Coleman does not see the Sixth Circuit opinion as a defeat. Although the Hamilton County Commission can continue to pray, the opinion states: "This case should continue through its regular course."

Coleman says stopping the prayers boils down to two issues: "Rights for minorities and freedoms for all," says Coleman.

He argues an all-inclusive 'moment of silence' is the solution.

"Right now you get one type, one specific prayer. When you go to the county commission meeting, you have a moment of silence? You'll have more prayer than you've ever had."

"Hamilton County's policy, or practice, turns a governmental function into a worship service," says Robin Flores.

Flores represents Coleman and Brandon Jones, who filed the lawsuit.

"We're in a very religious area. It's engrained in the community here. I understand that," says Flores.

He says tradition aside, the prayers should stop.

"It's unconstitutional," says Flores.

"As far as stopping prayer altogether, I'm totally against that. Like I said, the savior that I serve wouldn't allow that," says Chester Bankston.

Chester Bankston is the commissioner for district nine in Hamilton County. He says shortly after questions were raised about prayer at the meetings, the Commission adopted a new policy.

"We don't...there's no certain denomination can come. Anybody that's an organized group can come and lead the prayer. And I think that's as fair as we can get," he says.

While Coleman calls it 'political posturing,' Bankston says he is only doing what the majority of his constituents want him to do.

"If you look around, everything around you. It's just like a Swiss watch, it works perfectly. So it took a perfect person to make this. And I'm going to honor Him. And that's the bottom line," says Bankston.

The Sixth Circuit opinion also states the Commission's newer prayer policy is constitutional because it "aims to respect the diversity of all religious groups."

The U.S. Supreme Court will be reviewing a very similar case out of New York when its next term starts in October. Its ruling could set the precedent for all public meetings across the country.

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