1st Amendment at Center of Hamilton County Prayer Dispute

In Hamilton County, both parties in the dispute over prayer at county commission meetings say the First Amendment is on their side. Lawyers for both the plaintiffs and the county also use Marsh v. Chambers -- a 1983 case in which the Supreme Court upheld legislative prayer in a 6-3 decision -- to help make their cases in briefs filed ahead of Thursday's hearing before U.S. District Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice. Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum and a senior First Amendment Center scholar, said none of the country's circuit courts of appeal have signaled they would be willing to strike down legislative prayer. "There are a lot of cases over the years about this issue, and Marsh is still good law," Haynes said. Nonetheless, "people are still pushing the envelope at what Marsh means," he said. In the past five years, two U.S. circuit courts have split on how to apply Marsh. But the 6th Circuit, hasn't ruled directly on legislative prayer. The Times Free Press has more. Meanwhile, the Knox County Commission today is expected to adopt a written policy regarding prayer before board meetings, the News Sentinel reports.