published Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Hamilton County prayer lawsuit amended to include Thursday events

Plaintiffs Brandon Jones, left, and Tommy Coleman, right, led a June 25, 2012, rally on the second level of the Hamilton County Courthouse. The group attended the Hamilton County Commission meeting to address commissioners on their belief that a moment of silence should open government meetings instead of prayer.
Plaintiffs Brandon Jones, left, and Tommy Coleman, right, led a June 25, 2012, rally on the second level of the Hamilton County Courthouse. The group attended the Hamilton County Commission meeting to address commissioners on their belief that a moment of silence should open government meetings instead of prayer.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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Two residents suing Hamilton County commissioners in federal court over prayers held during meetings amended their complaint Friday to include events from Thursday's meeting.

Brandon Jones' and Tommy Coleman's new filing names Hamilton County, rather than the nine commissioners and County Attorney Rheubin Taylor in their official capacities. The amendment includes content from Thursday's invocation and the proposed policy on invocation speakers that commissioners introduced and plan to vote on Tuesday.

"The policy is a sham to cover the true intent [of] the defendant through its commission: Advance Christianity over all other religions or non-religions," the amended complaint states.

On Thursday, commissioners said two Alliance Defense Fund attorneys and local counsel Steve Duggins would represent them pro bono in the suit. Calls made to all three Friday were not returned.

The amended complaint argues that the proposed invocation policy only uses terms like "churches," "congregations," and "other religious assemblies" that are "exclusively Christian terms that identify or connote Christian religious assemblages."

The suit is before Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice, who on Wednesday set a July 26 hearing on Coleman's and Jones' motion for a preliminary injunction. An injunction would temporarily halt commissioners from praying until Mattice rules on the case.

In 2003, a federal judge ordered Hamilton County to remove plaques of the Ten Commandments posted in the county courthouse and two other government buildings.

"Apparently they haven't learned anything from the decision and the use of the Ten Commandments," said Robin Flores, who represents Coleman and Jones.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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