Freedom From Religious Group Objects To Prayer At County Commission Meetings

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to the practice of the Hamilton County Commission opening its meetings with prayer.

The group said, "What's the purpose of invoking Jesus' name before discussing whether to raise sewer and water rates or if Joe Blow qualifies for a variance to the zoning code?"

FFRF officials said a May 21 letter to the Hamilton County Commission "points out that the commission really has no business bringing a religious figure into the secular halls of government.

"

A local complainant alerted FFRF, a national state-church watchdog, to the fact that prayers opening commission meetings are exclusively Christian and that every prayer in 2012 has included "in Jesus' name" or a variation thereof, it was stated.

"The prayers currently invoked at commission meetings impermissibly advance Christianity and lead a reasonable observer to believe that the commission is endorsing not only religion over nonreligion, but also Christianity over other faiths," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

"This practice inappropriately alienates non-Christians and nonbelievers. Their efforts to participate in public meetings are adversely affected by these types of prayers, which turn nonbelievers and non-Christians into political outsiders of their own community and government," he said 

The letter "cites legal precedents, along with aspects of court rulings that are commonly misunderstood by local governments."

"The prayers here flagrantly exceed the constraints of the 1983 Supreme Court decision, Marsh v. Chambers, which carved out a narrow exception to the Establishment Clause for legislative prayer as a nod to history and custom," attorney Elliott said.

"The Marsh exception was confined to a situation involving a nonsectarian, nondenominational prayer, led by an officiant who had not been selected based upon any impermissible religious motive, and which was addressed to the body of legislators present, and to no one else," he said.

In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in a North Carolina case in which Forsyth County's prayers to Jesus were found to be unconstitutional, he stated.

Attorney Elliott said, "I remind Hamilton County commissioners that the U.S. was the first nation to adopt a secular constitution, investing sovereignty in “We the People,” not a divine entity. "Significantly, there was no prayer during the Constitutional Convention. Surely if the founders did not need prayer to write the document that founded our nation, the commission can successfully conduct its business without prayer as well."



All School Board Members But Rhonda Thurman Approve Going Ahead With Equity Study

All County School Board members except Rhonda Thurman said Thursday afternoon they are in favor of pushing ahead with an equity study sought by new Supt. Bryan Johnson. Ms. Thurman said she was "tired of bullying tactics by outside groups" such as UnifiEd and Chattanooga 2.0. She said the 132 people who signed a letter in support of the study include people "with deep pockets" ... (click for more)

Principal Selections Announced For Alpine Crest And Nolan Schools

Hamilton County Schools today announced the principal selections for Nolan Elementary and Alpine Crest Elementary for next school year. The talent team for the school district searched across the country to attract the best school leaders as part of their mission to attract great teachers and leaders to Hamilton County Schools. One search landed in Maine and the other in Nashville ... (click for more)

The Boss, Claude Ramsey

I try not to overuse the word great, but we lost a great man today, Claude Ramsey. I had the pleasure of serving under him as director of Commercial and Industrial Properties for 14 years while he was the Hamilton County Assessor of Property. He was probably the smartest person I have ever known. He was tough but patient, kind, caring and compassionate. He knew how to get ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Not A Blessed One

When I read, to no great surprise, that 132 of Chattanooga’s “leaders” had signed a letter in support of “socioeconomic integration” in Thursday’s Times Free Press, there were two things that were immediately obvious to me: Not a blessed one would have (a) written such a letter on their personal stationery, and (b) not a blessed one would have ever voted for the current president ... (click for more)

Katie Burrows Sets UTC Women's Basketball Staff

Chattanooga head coach Katie Burrows is putting the finishing touches on her new staff. The faces will remain the same, but the responsibilities will shift.   Assistant coaches Brittany Johnson and Jon Goldberg will remain on the staff and Debbie Black moved from Director of Operations to assistant coach. Former student-athlete Aryanna Gilbert will be the Mocs' student ... (click for more)

CASL: Thursday's High-Point Scorers

CUMBERLAND HIGH-POINT SCORERS: None reported. RIDGESIDE HIGH-POINT SCORERS: 19 – Arianna Bond, Izzy Bauer, Drew Bond, Madeline Bond 17 – Beccan Fitzsimmons, Taj Goodman, Adelaide Bond, Jack Fitzsimmons 16 – Brynne Burkhart 15 – Alex Lowry 14 – Ryan Carpenter, Kathy Zeglen, Owen Eastman 13 – Asa Hedrick 12 – Erynn Whaley, Monica Suttles 11 – Wally ... (click for more)