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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 found it difficult to serve the emotional needs of mourners at the scene while also performing his professional duties as coroner.

To remedy this dilemma, 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 Volunteer Chaplains, Judge Mack Invites Them to Give Invocation

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

Before implementing the volunteer chaplaincy program, Judge Mack sought to make sure this practice was consistent with the tradition of both the Texas and United States Supreme Court, who also open their court sessions with an invocation. However, despite the clear legal precedent for Judge Mack’s action, the Freedom from Religion Foundation complained. On September 18, 2014, the group sent a letter of complaint to the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, resulting in the Commission launching an investigation into Judge Mack’s conduct.

Judge Mack Defended

On October 14, 2015, Judge Mack appeared before the Commission, along with his attorneys from First Liberty Institute. The attorneys made the following arguments:

  • From at least 1789, there has been an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of religion’s role in American life. (Van Orden v. Perry, 2005).
  • The invocations given during Judge Mack’s opening ceremonies are in an almost identical situation as those upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014).
  • The U.S. Supreme Court opens with a solemnizing prayer, while the Texas Supreme Court opens with a prayer and a recitation of “God save the United States and this honorable Court.”
  • The invocations given during Judge Mack’s opening ceremonies cannot be distinguished from those given before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court.
  • The volunteer chaplaincy program comports with the requirements of the Establishment Clause because Judge Mack ensures no government funds or resources are used on the volunteer chaplain project and because chaplains of all faiths in the community were invited to join the program.

In light of these arguments, First Liberty Institute attorneys determined that Judge Mack’s practices are constitutional and respectfully requested that the Commission dismiss the charges against Judge Mack.

In November 2015, the Commission officially dismissed the complaint.

Clarifying Guidance for All Texas Judges

On February 17, 2016, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick asked 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. On August 15, 2016, Attorney General Paxton issued a legal opinion affirming the constitutionality of both. Read the opinion.

“This is a total victory for Judge Mack and for the citizens of Texas,” Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, says. “If the Supreme Courts of the United States and Texas can open with prayer, clearly, the law allows for Judge Mack’s court to open with an invocation by a volunteer chaplain. We are grateful Attorney General Paxton has brought clarity to this important issue, reaffirming the constitutionality of this practice in the public arena.”

First Liberty Legal Action

On March 21, 2017, Freedom of Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit including three plaintiffs against the practice of opening court sessions with an invocation. On May 17, 2017, First Liberty Institute and law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP asked a Texas federal court to dismiss the lawsuit. Texas State Attorney General, Ken Paxton, intervened in the lawsuit in support of Judge Mack.

“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,” Judge Mack says. “I look forward to putting this behind me so I can get back to the important business of serving the citizens of Montgomery County.”

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. ”

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: May 17, 2017

Contact: Lori Ross, lross@firstliberty.org

Cell: 214-738-4783, Direct: 972-440-7592

 

JUDGE SEEKS TO DISMISS LAWSUIT ATTACKING MULTI-FAITH CHAPLAIN INVOCATIONS

With the support of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Judge Wayne Mack’s legal team defends the constitutionality of opening court with an invocation


Conroe, TX – Today, First Liberty Institute and the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, on behalf of their client Judge Wayne Mack, are asking a Texas federal court to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to end to the practice of opening court sessions with an invocation. Read the response at FirstLiberty.org/JudgeMack. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intervened in the lawsuit in support of Judge Mack.

“If the Supreme Court, Congress, and cities and towns across the country can open their meetings with an invocation, then Judge Mack can certainly do so,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Judge Mack simply allows chaplains from all faiths to provide invocations in the same manner recently approved by the United States Supreme Court.”

In the lawsuit, Plaintiffs allege that, despite a rich, national history of opening public meetings with an invocation and several Supreme Court decisions upholding the practice, Judge Mack’s practice is unconstitutional. In response, First Liberty attorneys point to the fact that both the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas legislature open their sessions with an invocation.

“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,” Judge Mack says. “I look forward to putting this behind me so I can get back to the important business of serving the citizens of Montgomery County.”

U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady from Texas rallied behind our client, 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.”

In 2015, a complaint was filed with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct about Judge Mack’s inter-faith, volunteer chaplaincy program, and his practice of allowing volunteer chaplains to open his courtroom sessions with an invocation. First Liberty Institute represented Judge Mack at a hearing before the Commission.

In February of 2016, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue a legal opinion clarifying the constitutionality of Judge Mack’s actions. In August of 2016, Attorney General Paxton affirmed that Judge Mack’s practices are well within the bounds of Texas law and the Constitution.

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

 

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 Lori Ross: lross@firstliberty.org, Cell: 214-738-4783 or Direct: 469-440-7592.

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8/15/16 – Press Release 

5/17/17 – Press Release

Judge Mack - First Liberty