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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. One of his duties is to act as a first-on-scene responder to deaths in 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.

Practice 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, intervened 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. At a hearing in early 2018, 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 will continue to monitor the case and assist the County if necessary.

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release: January 22, 2018
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

 

Federal Judge Allows Lawsuit Challenging Multi-Faith Invocations to Proceed

First Liberty attorney says decision inconsistent with history, tradition


Conroe, TX –A Texas federal judge today allowed a lawsuit against Montgomery County, Texas, to continue its challenge against courtroom invocations of its Justice of the Peace, Judge Wayne Mack, allowing voluntary chaplains to open courtroom ceremonies with an invocation and the pledge of allegiance. The volunteer chaplaincy program included leaders from multiple faiths, including Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Mormon religious leaders.

“Censorship is not part of our tradition and values,” said Chelsey Youman, Counsel for First Liberty. “If the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court can open their sessions with prayer, why not Judge Mack? 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.”

First Liberty Institute represented Judge Mack in this lawsuit in his personal capacity until he was dismissed from the suit in that capacity on January 10, 2018. On Friday, January 19, 2018, a federal district judge permitted the lawsuit to continue against Montgomery County, Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken twice on the constitutionality of invocations before government proceedings. The Court found in Marsh v. Chambers (1983) and Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014) that invocations before government meetings are fully consistent with the Constitution and an important part of America’s history and tradition. In 2016, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion affirming that Judge Mack’s practices are well within the bounds of Texas law and the U.S. Constitution.

Read more about the case and view photos at FirstLiberty.org/JudgeMack

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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.

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


1/22/18 – Press Release

8/15/16 – Press Release 

5/17/17 – Press Release

Judge Mack - First Liberty