Young Atheists Are Going Up Against Christian City Commissioners in This Church/State Separation Battle

Guess what this is?

That would be the Hamilton County Commissioners (in Tennessee) praying “in Jesus’ name” at a meeting.

Last month, residents Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones — both college students — filed a lawsuit against their county. They’ve been in court over this, getting cross examined and everything, to determine if they were truly “harmed” by the Christian prayer:

Referencing a prayer given on June 28 by Calvin Nunley, pastor of Christ Family Church in Soddy-Daisy, Coleman said he felt “personally attacked” when reference was made to “unthankful, unholy and ungrateful” people during his prayer — despite never mentioning him by name.

“It was clear he was there to attack us,” Coleman said, adding that the remarks, in addition to other prayers, made him feel “excluded, unwelcome and extremely out of place.”

Jones then took the stand, giving short testimony that fell in line with Coleman’s. Jones said that of the three commission meetings he had attended since June, he felt excluded every time as prayers were made.

Perhaps the more damning testimony came from a local Muslim woman who also attended the meetings:

[Plaintiffs’ attorney Robin] Flores then called Amira Laham to the stand. Laham, a Muslim, was examined and cross-examined on her experience of attending 10 commission meetings in the past year at which prayers were offered.

Laham said she observed the prayers becoming “more aggressive” and added that she would not feel comfortable offering a Muslim prayer in the commission chamber if given the opportunity.

“I felt ostracized,” she said. “When a prayer is given, I think that people should feel closer to God — not the way that I felt.”

The County had no real defense. A representative said she invited leaders from all the religious groups in the area to deliver the invocation — See? We’re not discriminating! — even though just about all those religious groups are Christian…

Need more reason to support the atheists? Watch this incredible video of 12-year-old freethinker Maia Disbrow speaking (on her own terms, she says) about how it’s bad enough that kids at school single her out for being an atheist — why are the Hamilton County Commissioners doing the same thing?

That last line is so damn depressing…

Now, it’s up to the judge to do the right thing: Overturn the current policy and recognize that Christian prayers do not belong at a government meeting. He says the ruling will come soon after August 8th, the deadline for both sides to turn in any additional evidence.

What’s amazing about this case is that it wasn’t an organization that filed the lawsuit. It wasn’t the ACLU or FFRF. It’s two college students with the help of an attorney. Especially in a religious area, Jones and Coleman are showing a lot of bravery in taking on this battle.

There’s some hope the judge will overturn the policy, but it’s not solid:

[Judge Harry “Sandy” Mattice] signaled to the parties that upholding the policy on its face could require him to find that some amount of sectarian involvement is constitutional.

“But I have already told you that there is some language from the 6th Circuit, and maybe elsewhere, that that might not be the case,” Mattice said.

So how can you help? Jones and Coleman need to raise money for their legal defense:

Our attorney recently informed us that we’re going to need to raise about $5,000 just to get us started on upcoming filing fees and assorted court costs. We’re going to need this money regardless of whether we win or lose this case in this federal court circuit because both sides are geared to appeal this thing all of the way up to the supreme court if necessary. We are not very wealthy, in fact both of us are poor college students and we need help funding this endeavor for this reason. We can promise you that any money you donate will be well spent. We will be keeping all funds collected in an escrow account managed by our attorney that is only used for this case.

Please help them out. And soon.

Do it for Maia.

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