Judge Wins Religious Liberty Victory for Prayer in Court

The battle over religious freedoms continues to rage in our nation, but supporters of freedom just won another victory.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has issued a stay allowing Judge Wayne Mack, a Montgomery County Justice of the Peace represented by the First Liberty Institute, to continue his practice of letting chaplains pray at the start of his court sessions.

“I am so very grateful that we have our chaplaincy program in place to assist with helping families in our county through terrible tragedies and to provide a moment of perspective as our court begins proceedings,” Judge Mack said. “I am pleased that this program can continue while we are presenting our case to the 5th Circuit.”

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The order allows him to continue this practice while the lawsuit against him heads to court, so it could still be overturned.

“Judge Mack is grateful that the Fifth Circuit allowed him to continue following our nation’s long history and tradition of opening court proceedings with prayer,” said Justin Butterfield, Deputy General Counsel to First Liberty. “We agree with the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that prohibiting the prayers was wrong. It’s time for the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to end their harassment of Judge Mack.”

The Fifth Circuit strongly hinted that Judge Mack’s opponents have a weak case, saying in the ruling that, “…as to FFRF’s individual-capacity claim, that too is likely to fail. The Supreme Court has held that our Nation’s history and tradition allow legislatures to use tax dollars to pay for chaplains who perform sectarian prayers before sessions. If anything, Judge Mack’s chaplaincy program raises fewer questions under the Establishment Clause because it uses zero tax dollars and operates on a volunteer basis. And the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed Marsh in upholding a legislature’s unpaid, volunteer chaplaincy program comprised almost exclusively of Christians.”

The First Liberty Institute points out that the judge allows other faiths, not just Christians, to participate.

“Mack, whose duties include serving as a coroner for Montgomery County, created a volunteer chaplaincy program to aid members of the community while he conducts independent death investigations,” the group said. “In his role as Justice of the Peace, Judge Mack allows the multi-faith, volunteer chaplains to open his courtroom ceremonies with a brief invocation and the pledge of allegiance in order to honor their service. The chaplaincy program includes leaders from multiple faiths, including Christian, Sunni Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu religious leaders.”

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