Judge Wants More Info Before Ruling on Commission Prayers

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A federal judge in Chattanooga said Thursday that he needs more information to decide whether to halt prayers at Hamilton County Commission meetings.
U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice heard arguments as two local men sought to bar the prayers at the start of the government meetings while their lawsuit is argued in court.
Mattice set an Aug. 8 deadline for the parties to submit briefs on the constitutionality of the practice.
“I do believe the community deserves an answer on this,” Mattice said, indicating he would likely rule early next month on the request for a temporary injunction.
Plaintiff Tommy Coleman testified Thursday that he felt excluded from the meetings because of the prayers.
“I felt excluded, unwelcome, out of place,” Coleman told the court.
After the hearing, plaintiffs’ attorney Robin Flores said he was pleased by the outcome.
“If he had made a knee-jerk ruling from the bench, I would have been shocked,” Flores said.
The other man pressing the lawsuit, Brandon Jones, told reporters afterward he is optimistic.
“I really felt we presented our points well and that the judge is going to take our arguments into consideration,” Jones said.
Earlier this month, commission members unanimously approved a formal policy that invites clergy to offer prayer.
On Monday in Knoxville, the Knox County Commission voted 10-1 in adopting a written policy on public prayer before their meetings.

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