Knox County Commission approves written prayer policy

Knox County Commission approves written prayer policy

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Commissioner Sam McKenzie bows his head for the prayer. Commissioner Sam McKenzie bows his head for the prayer.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knox County commissioners on Monday approved a written policy for how prayers are conducted in its public meetings.

Commissioners voted 10-1 in favor of the policy. Commissioner Amy Brolyes cast the only dissenting vote, saying the policy isn't inclusive enough.

The commission's Rules Committee forwarded the policy last Thursday to the full commission with a positive recommendation.

The policy solidifies a long-standing practice to hold a brief prayer before the start of commission meetings.

It states that no one on the commission nor citizens attending commission meetings will be required to participate in the prayers. The prayers will be conducted without preference for any particular faith or religious denomination.

"You don't have to prayer to our God if you don't know what to, but this our choice and I'll defend that to my dying day," Commissioner Mike Brown during the discussion.

The policy has drawn criticism from groups like the Knoxville Jewish Alliance, which sent a letter to commissioners. "We'RE not trying to quash prayer in public," said Jeff Gubitz, with the alliance. "We just think prayer is personal and not need to be invoked to in order to bring decisions in government."

The policy was written after some commissioners expressed hope it would prevent a lawsuit from organizations like Freedom from Religion, a group that has already filed a suit against the Hamilton County Commission after a Chattanooga resident complained about the practice of public prayers before commission meetings.

Freedom from Religion argues the public prayers by government bodies "flagrantly exceed" constraints of a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret says the written policy will hold up in court, if challenged.

"I think the misconception on part of some members of the public was that the commission was now going to start something new," Jarret said. "They've been praying. They will continue to pray and will continue to have an inclusive policy to allow people with various faiths to pray."

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