A Texas Justice of the Peace found himself at the center of controversy when he decided to open each court day with a few moments of prayer. The prayer was mostly delivered by faith leaders around the community. Although most found no issue with the act, the Freedom From Religion Foundation believed that the public could view it as prejudice. The dispute continued all the way to the U.S. appeals court, which ultimately decided with Judge Wayne Mack.
According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, “We cannot credit the plaintiffs’ assertion that ‘coercion in a courtroom doesn’t come from the imposition of actual prejudice; it comes from a perceived risk of prejudice.’ The plaintiffs must present evidence that any such perception is objectively reasonable — evidence from which we can conclude that ‘coercion is a real and substantial likelihood.’” The court ruled 2-1 in favor of Mack to continue his moments of prayer before court proceedings.
Thrilled over the ruling, Mack’s attorney, Bradley Hubbard, told reporters, “The 5th Circuit rightly concluded that Judge Mack’s brief ceremony respects a rich historical tradition of opening judicial proceedings with an invocation.” He added, “The 5th Circuit rightly concluded that Judge Mack’s brief ceremony respects a rich historical tradition of opening judicial proceedings with an invocation.”
Not everyone was excited over the ruling, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Laurie Gaylor, criticized the decision, noting the courtroom was no church. “A courtroom is not a church, and a judge’s bench should not be a pulpit. It is a dishonest decision claiming a tradition of courtroom prayer and denying it is coercive.”
It should be noted that Judge Wayne Mack does not make the moments of prayer mandatory for any person. Visitors to the court will notice a sign outside reading, “It is the tradition of this court to have a brief opening ceremony that includes a brief invocation by one of our volunteer chaplains . . . . You are not required to be present or participate. The bailiff will notify the lobby when the court is in session.”
If that wasn’t enough, the bailiff reiterates this notion, stating, “[I]t is the tradition of the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas Supreme Court[,] and this Justice Court to have a brief opening ceremony that includes [an] invocation by one of our volunteer chaplains . . . . You are NOT required to be present during the opening ceremonies, and if you like, you may step out of the [courtroom] before the Judge comes in. Your participation will have no effect on your business . . . or the decisions of this court. So . . . before court begins[,] please take this opportunity to use the facilities, make a phone call, or not to participate in the opening ceremonies. You may exit the [courtroom] at this time.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has yet to announce if they will appeal.
This piece was written by Jeremy Porter on October 2, 2022. It originally appeared on RedVoiceMedia.com and is used with permission.
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