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Judge Mack Starts the Volunteer Chaplaincy Program

When Judge Mack was elected in Montgomery County, there were no medical examiners in the county. As Justice of the Peace, Judge Mack therefore serves as the coroner for the county. Judge Mack implemented a volunteer chaplaincy program, to which he invited religious leaders of every faith represented in Montgomery County.

Now, when there is a death in the precinct, mourners are asked if they would like a volunteer chaplain at the scene, and if so, of what faith. This gives mourners the opportunity to be comforted according to their wishes and religious beliefs, while permitting Judge Mack to focus on his duties as coroner.

To recognize the volunteer chaplains who sacrificed their time and energy to serve families in crisis and to solemnize his courtroom proceedings, Judge Mack invites the volunteer chaplains to open his court proceedings with a brief invocation of two minutes or less.

Invocations Comes Under Attack

Despite clear legal precedent for Judge Mack’s action, the Freedom from Religion Foundation complained. The group sent a letter of complaint to the Texas State Commission (“Commission”) on Judicial Conduct, resulting in the Commission launching an investigation into Judge Mack’s conduct. On October 14, 2015, Judge Mack appeared before the Commission, along with his attorneys from First Liberty Institute. First Liberty Institute attorneys defended Judge Mack’s and asked that the Commission dismiss the charges against Judge Mack.

In November 2015, the Commission officially dismissed the complaint. That led to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to provide a legal opinion clarifying the constitutionality of Judge Wayne Mack’s volunteer chaplaincy program and his practice of allowing chaplains to open court sessions with an invocation. Attorney General Paxton provided that guidance, clarifying the practice for Justices of the Peace like Judge Mack all over Texas. Read Attorney General Paxton’s opinion by clicking here.

Judge Mack Faces a New Fight

But, the Freedom of Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit against Judge Mack’s practice of opening court sessions with an invocation. Judge Mack retained First Liberty and law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP to represent him in the lawsuit in his individual capacity.

“I was stunned to learn that I had been sued because I provide the opportunity for chaplains from all faith traditions to offer an invocation. I thought the Attorney General’s opinion settled this issue,” said Judge Mack.

Attorneys with First Liberty asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. Texas State Attorney General, Ken Paxton, asked to intervene in the lawsuit in support of Judge Mack. U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady from Texas rallied behind Judge Mack, saying, “Make no mistake, this hollow federal lawsuit is designed specifically to intimidate Judge Mack and others who are following our national traditions in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. It will fail. Judge Mack has the courage to stand strong for our history and tradition, and I, and many others in our nation, are proud to stand with him. ”

Soon after the filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs acknowledged that they only wanted to challenge Judge Mack in his official capacity as a Justice of the Peace for Montgomery County. A federal judge agreed with the plaintiff’s request, dismissing Judge Mack from the suit in his personal capacity, but allowing the challenge against Montgomery County to continue for now. First Liberty and attorneys with Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, LLP filed a friend-of-the-court brief once again defending the practice of opening court sessions with an invocation.

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: March 27, 2018
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

First Liberty Urges Court to Reject Attack on Invocations

Group files amicus brief on behalf of Judge Mack in case involving ceremonial invocation


Montgomery County, TX—Today, First Liberty Institute and attorneys with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in defense of opening justice court with an invocation. The case stems from a lawsuit against Montgomery County, Texas in which an atheist group filed a complaint against Wayne Mack, a Justice of the Peace for the county, for allowing invocations at the start of court sessions.

“An atheist group previously lost its fight to silence the prayers in Judge Mack’s courtroom. Now they are trying to use the Federal court system to force the county to censor these invocations,” said Chelsey Youman, Counsel. “It’s a shame that a group from Wisconsin is wasting taxpayer dollars, forcing Montgomery County to defend something the Supreme Court of the United States has twice said is legal.”

Mack, who also serves as the County Coroner for Montgomery County, created a volunteer chaplaincy program to aid members of the community while he conducts independent death investigations. In his role as Justice of the Peace, Judge Mack allows the 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, Buddhist, Hindu, and Mormon religious leaders. In January, a federal district court judge allowed the suit against Montogmery County to continue even after plantiffs dropped Judge Mack from the lawsuit.

“The U.S. Supreme Court recently approved of invocations like those led by Judge Mack’s multi-faith chaplains,” added Ashley Johnson, Of Counsel for Gibson Dunn. “To preserve judicial autonomy, the court should reject this challenge to these ceremonial invocations in Judge Mack’s courtroom.”

To read the brief, click here.

To download a copy of this press release, click here.

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About First Liberty Institute

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

 


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