Faith

Judge Is Sued by Atheist Group Over Prayers in Courtroom

Texas attorney general says the lawsuit 'flies in the face' of the Constitution

An atheist organization has sued a judge in Texas for having a chaplain open his court sessions in prayer.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit based in Wisconsin, represents three attorneys in the case: a Christian, an atheist, and a religiously unaffiliated individual fighting against the prayerful judge.

“No, this isn’t the start to a bad joke,” Alex Zielinski wrote in the San Antonio Current. All the individuals suing are referenced by pseudonyms in the lawsuit.

Judge Mack is fully complying with the Constitution.

They have sued Wayne Mack, a Texas judge in Montgomery County. Mack took his position in 2014.

With his “considerable influence and power as a justice of the peace, Judge Mack exerts coercive influence over those in his courtroom, effectively compelling their participation in his religious practice,” the complaint states.

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“Before Mack starts each of his court sessions, he introduces a ‘visiting pastor,’ outlining his credentials, advertising the church he is from and where it is located,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation group noted. “The guest chaplain often reads or sermonizes from the Christian Bible, then asks all attendees to bow their heads and pray.”

Related: The ‘Religious Left’ Is on the Move

The organization sent a complaint letter to Mack in 2014 and filed the lawsuit against him on March 21 of this year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Houston Division.

“Judge Mack is fully complying with the Constitution by adhering to the model for opening prayers the Supreme Court endorsed just a few years ago,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated.

Paxton, a Republican, claims the Freedom From Religion Foundation seeks to “rewrite the Constitution.”

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“The Freedom from Religion Foundation’s quest to expunge any vestige of religion from public life flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s holdings,” Paxton added.

All of the attorneys have appeared before Mack in the courtroom on official business. The atheist attorney is a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Judge Mack does not make participation in the courtroom prayer mandatory. According to the lawsuit, Mack started a court session in 2014 after announcing a prayer would take place: “If any of you are offended by that, you can leave [by going] into the hallway and your case will not be affected.”

The atheist attorney now suing Mack was on official business during this particular case. “She did not leave after the invitation to do so out of fear that her actions would prejudice Judge Mack against her,” the lawsuit said.

Related: Is Anything ‘Sacrilegious’ Anymore?

The attorney who does not associate with any religion has similar fears. He “feels that leaving the courtroom during the prayers would jeopardize his ability to represent his clients before Judge Mack” and “believes that publicly registering his objection to the courtroom prayer practice would jeopardize his business, insofar as it would bias Judge Mack against him and his clients,” according to the lawsuit.

While one of the suing parties claims to be Christian, she “objects to a government official telling her when or how to pray.”

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