Written by Don Byrd
A lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) claims a Texas judge violates the separation of church and state through his practice of opening courtroom sessions with a prayer led by a minister.
The San Antonio Current reports:
According to court documents, Judge [Wayne] Mack has asked volunteer pastors to lead his courtroom in prayer since assuming office in 2014. Before beginning the often 8 minute-long sermon, Mack allows people “offended” by the ritual to leave if they so choose — and return when it’s over. It’s not mandatory, and participation won’t affect a person’s case, he insists.
Regardless, the plaintiff’s attorneys argue his tradition still breaks the constitutional rule that “government may not…promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion.”
Judge Mack’s supporters include the state’s Attorney General, Ken Paxton, who contends that the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway allows the practice. That case, however, was about invocations opening a local government meeting, not a courtroom proceeding.
The plaintiffs – two of whom are attorneys who practice in his courtroom – argue that, among other problems, they fear retribution from the judge if they fail to participate. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also a supporter of Judge Mack’s practice, says the complaint amounts to “political correctness.”
Is this like an invocation opening a legislative session, with a long established tradition? Or do courtroom prayers run a greater risk of religious coercion and the appearance of government improperly promoting religion? Stay tuned.
You can read the complaint here.