Judge Dianne Hensley | Cases | First Liberty


Accommodation

Judge Dianne Hensley’s office is located just across the street from the agency where residents obtain marriage licenses. Consequently, her office received many requests for weddings. She thought it was a shame that couples seeking a low-cost wedding had such limited options – especially given that her office is located right next to where folks get their marriage license in McLennan County.

In Texas, a judge may perform a wedding but it is not a requirement of their duties.

Consequently, in the aftermath of Obergefell, citizens in the Waco area who sought a civil marriage had to travel some distance to do so, and incur the associated expense.

As a person of faith and a public servant, Judge Hensley was determined not to violate her own conscience or the law. And while she has a religious objection to officiating same-sex weddings, she just wanted to offer a low-cost wedding option to all residents and follow the law regarding same-sex couples.

So, she set out to make sure that everyone—including same-sex couples—could be accommodated if they came to her office. Judge Hensley made arrangements with a civil officiant authorized to conduct weddings in Waco just down the street from her office in the courthouse. Judge Hensley even offered to pay any difference in cost for same-sex couples that she would refer, but the person agreed to charge the same rate as Judge Hensley.

In addition, clerks in Judge Hensley’s office are licensed to perform weddings. Judge Hensley instructed her staff to tell anyone she cannot marry because of scheduling or religious reasons that an arrangement has been made to accommodate them within the same timeframe and for the same cost.

Official Warning

There have been several couples who have been accommodated by Judge Hensley’s staff and happily taken the judge up on the referral. In fact, no one has complained about Judge Hensley’s referral system. Instead, the most common response to being provided a list of options is, “Thank you!” No one complained to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (“CJC”) either. However, the Commission became aware of Judge Hensley’s practice and decided on its own authority to initiate its own, lengthy investigation into her referral system.

Because of Judge Hensley, anyone who wants to get married in McLennan County and Waco can get married. Judge Hensley followed the law, came up with an innovative solution to reconcile her religious convictions while serving the needs of her community, and no one has complained. But for ensuring that anyone who wants to get married can get married, she’s received a “Public Warning” from the CJC.

First Liberty Responds

To defend Judge Hensley, First Liberty Institute has filed a lawsuit on her behalf. The lawsuit alleges that Judge Hensley was wrongly punished for accommodating same-sex marriages and, further, the Commission’s “Public Warning” of Judge Hensley violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Because of Judge Hensley, anyone who wants to get married in McLennan County can get married,” said Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty Institute.  “For simply trying to reconcile her religious beliefs while meeting the needs of her community—ensuring anyone can get married who wants to be married—the Commission on Judicial Conduct punished her.”

Judge Hensley said, “For providing a solution to meet a need in my community while remaining faithful to my religious beliefs, I received a ‘Public Warning.’ No one should be punished for that.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 12.17.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Texas Justice of the Peace Files Lawsuit After Reprimand for Accommodating Same-Sex Marriages
First Liberty Institute represents Judge Dianne Hensley over the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct’s “Public Warning”

Austin, TX—Today, First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct (“Commission”) on behalf of McLennan County (TX) Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley.  The lawsuit alleges that Judge Hensley was wrongly punished for accommodating same-sex marriages and, further, the Commission’s “Public Warning” of Judge Hensley violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Because of Judge Hensley, anyone who wants to get married in McLennan County can get married,” said Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty Institute.  “For simply trying to reconcile her religious beliefs while meeting the needs of her community—ensuring anyone can get married who wants to be married—the Commission on Judicial Conduct punished her.”

Judge Hensley said, “For providing a solution to meet a need in my community while remaining faithful to my religious beliefs, I received a ‘Public Warning.’ No one should be punished for that.”

Texas law allows judges to officiate weddings but it does not require them to do so.  After the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2015, most judges in Waco and McLennan County stopped performing weddings, forcing residents to travel further and incur greater expenses.  To ensure those seeking to be married in McLennan County could be, including same-sex couples, Judge Hensley made arrangements with a local private vendor and her staff to facilitate weddings she, for religious reasons or just because of schedule, could not officiate.

Despite Judge Hensley seeking to accommodate all citizens of McLennan County who wish to be married, and despite no complaints filed, the Commission for Judicial Conduct investigated and issued a “Public Warning” against the judge.

In its lawsuit, First Liberty argues, “The Commission violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by investigating and punishing Judge Hensley for recusing herself from officiating at same-sex weddings, in accordance with the commands of her Christian faith.”  Adding, “By investigating and punishing her for acting in accordance with the commands of her Christian faith, the State of Texas has substantially burdened the free exercise of her religion, with no compelling justification.”

You can read the complaint here.

# # #

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

 

Social Facebook Social Instagram Social Twitter Social Youtube Social Linkedin Social Soundcloud

Terms of UsePrivacy PolicySitemap • © 2020 Liberty Institute® is a trademark of First Liberty Institute