Values

Texas judge sued for beginning courtroom sessions with prayer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack.  (REUTERS/Chip East, File)

A Texas judge is being sued in federal court by the nation's leading secularist legal organization because of his courtroom tradition of having guest pastors and chaplains offer an invocation before each session.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack that argues that he has repeatedly violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by holding Christian prayers at the beginning of each session.

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The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three plaintiffs directly affected by Mack's courtroom prayer tradition and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston.

According to the lawsuit, Mack vowed to institute "religious values within the office" during his 2014 Republican primary campaign for his position as Justice of the Peace for Montgomery County Precinct 1. He also said that he would implement a "chaplaincy program."

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"Shortly after assuming the office of Justice of the Peace on May 1, 2014, Judge Mack implemented the practice of opening each court session with a prayer delivered by a guest chaplain," the lawsuit explains.

In August 2014, one of the plaintiffs appeared in Mack's courtroom and quoted Mack as telling the crowd that if they are offended by the prayer, "you can leave into the hallway and your case will not be affected."

"The guest chaplain then stood and read from the Christian Bible for five to eight minutes, directing the reading to those present in the courtroom," the lawsuit claims. "After the five-to eight-minute sermon, the guest chaplain asked everyone to bow their heads for a prayer. During the prayer, Judge Mack did not bow his head, but observed those in the courtroom."

The lawsuit further explains that the plaintiff felt as though "the outcome of her case would be affected by how she chose to react."

Commenting on FFRF's lawsuit filed Tuesday, First Liberty CEO and President Kelly Shackelford called Mack's prayer practice a "settled issue."

"Judge Mack's program is an excellent idea and a great way to serve the community," Shackelford said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "It has already been upheld by both The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Texas Attorney General."

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