5th Circuit Rules Texas Judge Can Continue to Invite Prayer in His Court Room

The judge allows prayers from leaders of many faiths.

QUICK FACTS:
  • Judge Wayne Mack of Montgomery County, Texas will be allowed to permit ministers and chaplains of various faiths to pray in his courtroom.
  • A federal appeals court has ruled that the judge can allow prayer and other invocations in his court as has been his practice.
  • The Freedom from Religion Foundation challenged Mack’s policy, saying his allowance was a violation of the separation of church and state.
  • The court’s decision took into account that there was more than one faith represented in the courtroom in question and, as such, it was not a violation of the rights of any present in the court.
  • Judge Mack was delighted with the ruling, saying, “I am eternally grateful to the judges on the Fifth Circuit who upheld this historical practice. I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Montgomery County.”
COMMENTS FROM PARTIES INVOLVED:
  • Freedom from Religion Foundation represented an attorney who appeared before Judge Mack, and the group argued that the use of prayer was coercive, making litigants feel compelled to participate.
  • Mac was represented by Jeremy Dysplasia, a senior counsel for First Liberty who said America has a history of opening meetings with an invocation: “Welcoming a volunteer chaplain to lead an invocation according to the tradition of his or her faith reflects the very best of our nation’s values,” he said.
  • The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Freedom from Religion, ruling that the judge’s actions didn’t violate any constitutional rights because he invites members of all faiths to lead in the prayer.
  • “To maintain a lawful prayer ceremony, Mack must ensure that (1) he has a policy of denominational nondiscrimination and that (2) anyone may choose not to participate and suffer no consequences. Mack has shown that the plaintiffs fail materially to dispute those elements,” the court ruled.
BACKGROUND:
  • The issue of prayer in public buildings has become an issue of contention.
  • Earlier this year the Supreme Court of the United States heard a religious liberty case about a high school football coach’s on-field prayers.
  • In June Minneapolis, Minnesota became the first U.S. city to allow an Islamic call to prayer to be broadcast publicly by its two dozen mosques, as American Faith previously reported.