UPDATE: UTC student will receive $1,500 settlement after prayer - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: UTC student will receive $1,500 settlement after prayer lawsuit

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: A UTC graduate student will receive a $1,500 settlement for getting kicked out of a Hamilton County Commission meeting after raising questions about public prayer. 

Thomas Coleman was kicked out of a July 12, 2012 meeting. When Coleman was ejected from commission, it raised the issue of an illegal seizure in federal court. The county offered to settle the case for the agreed amount. 

In April, a federal judge threw out the other parts of the case regarding Coleman and another plaintiff, Brandon Jones, denying first and 14th amendment claims made in the lawsuit.

The order issued by U. S. District Judge Harry Mattice for the Eastern District of Tennessee supported the county's right to have prayer at the beginning of commission meetings.


A federal judge has ruled that he will grant and deny parts of a motion filed in a case where two residents sued the Hamilton County Commission claiming prayer policy is unconstitutional.

The order issued Wednesday morning supports Hamilton County's right to have public prayer at the opening of commission meetings.

"I think its great," said Commissioner Joe Graham. "Because even though we're county commissioners, we should still have the freedom of speech just like everyone else in America."

Attorney for the plaintiffs Robin Flores said they're disappointed but plan to appeal.

"The way Hamilton County has been doing the prayers is almost turning the first few minutes of this government function into a church service and that's not the purpose of government," Flores said.

U. S. District Judge Harry Mattice for the Eastern District of Tennessee said Wednesday morning in an order there was a factual dispute concerning what happened leading to Thomas Coleman getting ejected from a July 12, 2012 commission meeting. 

READ MORE | Judge's ruling 

“And so, like the world, this lawsuit ends not with a bang but a whimper,” Mattice wrote in the order. “What began as a case with the potential for significant constitutional implications in the area of Establishment Clause jurisprudence ends as a run-of the-mill seizure case of little or no precedential significance.”

Mattice ruled to deny first and 14th amendment claims made in the lawsuit.

However, when Coleman was kicked out of the commission meeting, it raised the issue of an illegal seizure. The case will now progress to trial for that portion of the case.

Both the county and plaintiffs  will submit dates for trial this year by May 12, according to the order.

READ MORE | 2012 ruling on Hamilton County Commission prayer 

Stay with Channel 3 for more on this developing story.

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