CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Two men seeking to stop public prayer before Hamilton County Commission meetings have filed an appeal of a federal judge’s refusal to issue a temporary injunction.
Attorney Robin Flores told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he filed the appeal Monday on behalf of his clients, Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones.
The filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals came after U.S. District Court Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice declined in August to issue a restraining order. Mattice said it was too soon to determine whether new prayer rules adopted by commissioners were inclusive of faiths besides Christianity.
In a 46-page brief filed with 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Flores contends that “even one or two” prayers under the new policy were proof enough to show that the commission has not changed its ways and that the prayers still cause harm to those who feel excluded and isolated by them.
“The simple fact remains that the (county commission) controls the manner of who gets selected to give a prayer, and the methodology the defendant uses smacks of a disparate impact upon the minorities that make up the citizenry of Hamilton County,” Flores wrote.
County legal counsel Steve Duggins and County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said Tuesday they couldn’t comment because they had not yet read the appeal brief.
The newspaper reported that since a new policy was adopted, nearly all of the prayers have been Christian prayers, with many offered “in Jesus name.”
In August, Rabbi Shaul Perlstein postponed his scheduled participation at the commission meeting, saying he did not want to get caught up in the lawsuit filed by Coleman and Jones in June to halt the prayers.
When a clergy person from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox church did not come to offer prayer as scheduled Nov. 1, commission member Jim Fields offered the invocation.
In their lawsuit, Coleman and Jones contend the prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.