published Friday, September 14th, 2012

Graysville churchgoers support Hamilton County prayers

  • photo
    Chasity and Domingo Campos hold up signs supporting prayer along Georgia Avenue outside the Hamilton County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon.
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
    enlarge photo

Mickey McClure doesn't live in Hamilton County. The government overseeing his hometown of Graysville, Tenn., hasn't been sued for praying in Jesus' name.

But the Jesus of Hamilton County is the same Jesus of Rhea County, McClure says, and so a lawsuit filed against prayer in Hamilton County still is McClure's problem.

"God does so much for me, I feel like I've got to do what I can to stand up for him," McClure said after spending Thursday morning in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse, holding signs that read "Honk 2 Keep Prayer In."

McClure is one of several dozen members of Graysville's United Gospel Tabernacle who have driven to Chattanooga over the last several days to show support for the Hamilton County Commission, which has been named in a federal lawsuit for opening meetings with prayers in Jesus' name.

The steady sound of car horns kept the Graysville group energized as they waved the signs with such sayings as "Save Prayer Because It Will Save You."

"We got four people who gave us thumbs down," McClure said after the group packed up its signs.

Bryan Barkley just politely smiled as he walked by the protesters. Barkley -- who belongs to the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and has protested the public prayers -- said he admires the group's efforts.

"Not everyone will picket for something they believe in," said Barkley. "We don't agree with them, but we respect them."

The UTC alliance, which has held protests of its own, has stated that it is not against Christian prayer in general. Rather, it is against the prayers offered in Jesus' name at the start of official commission meetings -- prayers they claim are a specific governmental endorsement of Christianity and unconstitutional.

On Aug. 29, U.S. District Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice denied lawsuit plaintiffs Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones' motion to temporarily halt the commission's prayers until Mattice can make a final ruling on the suit, which wants to permanently halt the prayers.

Coleman and Jones have since appealed Mattice's ruling.

In the County Commission chambers inside the courthouse, prayer continued without commentary during Thursday's agenda meeting.

The Rev. Mark Harwood, pastor of Flat Top Independent Church in Soddy-Daisy, started and ended his invocation with "the precious name of Jesus Christ."

Coleman, sitting in the front of the room, recorded him on his cellphone.

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