Knox County Commissioners vote Monday on prayer policy

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- It's a tradition: prayer before meetings at the Knox County Commission, and many around town have no problem with it.

"I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion. And if a group wants to get together and practice that, I think it's okay," said Shannon Melgaard.

"I think it's every public group's right, and people who don't want to participate in that should sit their quietly and pay their respects. Because other people are paying their respects to their religion, you know?" said Alec Ross.

But the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has a big problem with it. It sent a letter to commissioners earlier this month claiming the prayers are almost always Christian and asking them to stop. The group wrote that prayer is inappropriate at government meetings, and is threatening legal action if it continues.

"They seem to be of the mind set that no prayer during any public assembly is legally accessible and that's just not the case," said Joe Jarrett, Knox County Law Director.

Jarrett said the commission doesn't promote any particular religion or force people to participate and said it's perfectly legal.
That's why he suggested the commission put a prayer policy in writing.

"Lawsuits of this nature are filed all the time and the first thing the court is going to want to say is let me see your policy. And when you don't have a written policy, courts get nervous," said Jarrett.

The commission's rules committee approved Jarrett's suggestion during its meeting Thursday. The full commission will vote on the prayer policy Monday.


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