Current Issues
Victory For Religious Freedom
August 25, 2016

Judge Wayne Mack, a Texas Justice of the Peace, continues to stand strong after an atheist activist group said it was considering a lawsuit against him for allowing chaplains to begin his courtroom sessions with prayer. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) calls Judge Mack’s actions unconstitutional, in spite of historical and legal precedent over the past 230 years.

The heart of this case stems from a complaint filed before the Texas State Commission by the FFRF in 2015 regarding Judge Mack’s practice of allowing volunteer chaplains to open courtrooms sessions with prayer, as well as his Justice Court Chaplaincy Program that utilizes chaplains to be first responders for deaths in the county and provide counseling to mourners.

WATCH Judge Mack and his attorney as they joined Fox and Friends to tell the full story.

On August 16th, Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, issued a legal opinion based on requests by Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Executive Director Seana Willing of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. He noted, “A Justice of the Peace does not violate the Establishment Clause by opening a court session with the statement, ‘God save the State of Texas and this Honorable Court.’”

In the six-page opinion, Paxton referenced the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. He also stated, “A court would likely conclude that a Justice of the Peace’s practice of opening daily court proceedings with a prayer by a volunteer chaplain as you describe is sufficiently similar to the facts in Galloway, such that the practice does not violate the Establishment Clause.” Similar comments were made regarding the volunteer chaplain program. Read the full opinion here.

The Town of Greece v. Galloway case was a powerful victory for religious freedom. In an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the U.S. Supreme Court highlighted our nation’s long tradition of legislative prayer, stating, “That the First Congress provided for the appointment of chaplains only days after approving language for the First Amendment demonstrates that the Framers considered legislative prayer a benign acknowledgment of religion’s role in society… As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions.”

Over the years, a number of religious liberty experts have filed amicus briefs around this issue to support the right of individuals to pray in a public setting. Alliance Defending Freedom sent a 7-page letter to local governments and organizations affirming the legality of public invocations, and Congressman Randy Forbes, along with Congressman Steve Scalise, led eighty-five Members of Congress and the Congressional Prayer Caucus in an amicus curiae brief supporting the Town of Greece opening their meetings in prayer.

These efforts emphasize the important work of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation and the American Prayer Caucus Network, as we work together to ensure citizens are equipped and educated to stand up for the right to pray and express their faith in the public square.

The American Prayer Caucus Network, a national network of like-minded legislators advanced and supported by the CPCF, is poised to respond in a similar manner whenever and wherever injustices like this arise in their respective states. For instance, even though faced with a lawsuit, the Berkeley County School Board has reinstated the practice of opening their meetings with prayer after the South Carolina Legislative Prayer Caucus sent a letter signed by 50 state lawmakers citing the Supreme Court decision. Additionally, Governor Nikki Haley signed a state law giving school boards the right to open meetings with prayer, and the CPCF also sent a strong letter to undergird the actions of the legislators and school board. Read the letter here.

After the Attorney General released his opinion, Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, which represented Mack in the case, said, “This is a total victory for Judge Mack and for the citizens of Texas.” Judge Mack also had praise, “This has been a long and arduous process. I’m thankful for Lieutenant Governor Patrick’s request for an opinion on this important issue and that Attorney General Paxton made clear the Constitution permits judges to invite volunteer chaplains to open sessions of court with prayer. This is a clear victory for religious liberty.”

Judge Mack does not want to offend anyone, he is simply exercising a long held and sacred freedom that is fully supported by the U.S. Constitution and represents the cornerstone of our nation’s founding.

If you want to give Judge Mack a shout out for his courageous stand, you can visit his Facebook page. We must prevail with and for one another and never allow ourselves to, “grow weary in well doing.” The key to winning these legislative and court battles is to know the facts, and then unite around them. The actions of these brave leaders is worthy of honor. Pray for them. Thank them. Encourage them. We are all in this together, and together we will see our heritage and our First Amendment rights preserved.