Atheist Isn’t Allowed to Give Invocation at County Meeting Because He’s Not Part of a Tax-Exempt Religious Institution

It was last summer when two young atheists tried to put a stop to the Christian prayers being recited at meetings of the Hamilton County Commissioners (in Tennessee) by filing a lawsuit:

A U.S. District Judge decided to let the prayers continue while the case was still not settled, and those atheists, Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones, aren’t done yet:

A federal appeals court will hear arguments on April 24 on whether the Hamilton County commissioners must stop allowing invocations at public meetings.

Brandon Jones (left) and Tommy Coleman (Dan Henry – Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Hopefully, those judges have the courage to put a stop to this madness; the law is certainly on the atheists’ side here.

In the meantime, Tommy Coleman — an ordained minister, though he’s an atheist — has requested a slot to give one of the invocations. He asked back in November, but the County keeps telling him no… because he’s not affiliated with a church:

Chris Hixson, legislative administrator for the Hamilton County Commission, manages the invocation list. She said Thursday that, generally, “everyone who has requested has been scheduled.” But that’s not the case for Coleman.

Hixson said she received Coleman’s request, but she was waiting for an OK to add him to the list.

County invocation policy — which didn’t exist until Coleman and Brandon Jones filed their lawsuit in June — states that those wishing to give the invocation must have tax-exempt status as a religious institution.

But because Coleman has no church or church property, he has no reason to be shielded from tax.

In the meantime, 32 clergy members from various Protestant churches — and clergy of the Baha’i, Russian Orthodox and other faiths — have been scheduled to give the invocation for commission meetings through most of October.

So the County has a policy that basically allows everybody but atheists to give an invocation.

If that doesn’t help his case, I don’t know what will.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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