Texas Attorney General Upholds Judge’s Practice of Allowing Chaplains to Open Court in Prayer

Mack-compressedWILLIS, Texas — The attorney general of Texas has upheld the practice of a local justice of the peace who has been under fire from a professing atheist organization for allowing chaplains to deliver daily invocations in his courtroom.

According to reports, Judge Wayne Mack of Willis opens each day with a ceremony that includes an invocation. The prayer is offered by a local chaplain, and the invocation is open to all religions.

But the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) says that it received two complaints in 2014 about the offering of Christian prayers: one from an attorney and another from a local citizen. It states that they felt coerced to participate out of fear of being disrespectful.

The organization then sent a letter to Mack, asserting that that the prayer practice is unlawful.

“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government may not in any way promote, advance or otherwise endorse religion,” it wrote. “[I]t would appear to any reasonable observer that the Montgomery County judicial system endorsing religion in general and Christianity in particular.”

FFRF also contended that praying in public is unbiblical.

“During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discourages public prayer,” it said, citing Matthew 6:5-6, where Jesus spoke against those who offer their prayers in a showy manner to be seen and praised by others.

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“Any public prayer practice violates this biblical mandate and will offend those Christians who observe it,” FFRF wrote.

It also sent a complaint to the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which—along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick—then requested that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issue a formal opinion on  the prayers in Mack’s courtroom.

Last week, Paxton upheld Mack’s prayer practice as being lawful and consistent with both American history and legal precedent. He pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway.

“In both instances, religious leaders of any faith are invited to deliver a prayer at the beginning of the proceedings,” Paxton wrote. “No guidance is given about the tone or content of the prayers. While the public officials themselves participate in the prayer, the public is not required to do so, and nothing suggests that non-participants are disadvantaged or disfavored due to their decision not to participate.”

“Furthermore, the court has acknowledged that the judiciary has a ‘long-established practice of prayer at public events,'” he noted. “Accordingly, we believe a justice of the peace’s practice of opening daily court proceedings with a prayer by a volunteer chaplain … is sufficiently similar to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Galloway such that a court would likely be compelled to agree with Galloway that the long-standing tradition of opening a governmental proceeding with prayer does not violate the Establishment Clause.”

FFRF says that it is dissatisfied with Paxton’s determination.

“Contrary to Paxton’s ruling, chaplain-delivered prayers in the courtroom cannot be likened to so-called ‘ceremonial deism’ or justified as a natural extension of prayer by legislative bodies,” it wrote in a press release about the matter.

“The chaplains are part of a volunteer chaplain program in which religious leaders provide counsel to persons in distress. Such programs, legally questionable in their own right, typically do not intrude into the courtroom,” FFRF contended. “Ironically, the chaplain prayers themselves create distress to those present who in good conscience do not wish to participate in religious rituals.”

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  • Reason2012

    “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
    2 Chronicles 7:14

    “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”
    James 5:16-18

    • http://www.nomorebadtown.com NoMoreBadTown

      “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
      Matthew 6:5-6

      • Reason2012

        When individuals pray, yes, they are to do it in secret, not make a public show.

        But we still have group prayer where they are all there to pray together.

        Acts 3:1 “Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.”

        Acts 1:13-14 “And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”

        • http://www.nomorebadtown.com NoMoreBadTown

          Yeah, that’s called “church”. Keep it there.

          • DoorknobHead

            Keep it in your “church”. Keep it in your “pants” … so many rules!

          • http://www.nomorebadtown.com NoMoreBadTown

            Well, some rules are made to be broken! 😉

    • DoorknobHead

      By ….turn from their wicked ways… does this not mean, in part, turn away from the free market of ideas and only listen to the one set of orthodox-approved beliefs inculcated by purveyors of the arbitrarily and self defined simple, perfect, unassailable set of ideas by keeping away from the edges of the bubble of constrained thinking. Was that your point?

  • james blue

    AG’s get to offer opinions and decide if they are going to take action, the courts are the place to “uphold”.

    We’ll see this tested when the satanic temple guys get involved.

    • lonbo

      I’m sure the good folks of the Satanic Temple are on their way. I look forward to the videos. With any luck Texas will end up on the wrong side of wall.

    • DoorknobHead

      Oh my gosh. The YouTube video with the title “David Suhor” where an invocation for The Satanic Temple West Florida was thrilling! To hear the Christians in the background actively trying to cast out demons was like something from ancient times — but real and now! Not from a movie where I would expect to see it! Humans do the darndest things. I would never think I would be witness to such a event in my lifetime. Creepy. For this case discussed in the Christian News article, it talks about prayer and the word “prayer” sounds like it leans towards Christianity to me. Also, is this case different than invocations? The article says prayer is in question — is this somehow different from an invocation or a different word but actually the same thing? Would Texas attempt to block the Satanic temple in this case, because the Satanic temple are atheists and do not believe in god or satan but only use those concepts as metaphors, so that prayer is not possible? But I guess invocations, calling upon a higher power is just in effect metaphor for the Satanic temple as well. Mute point then maybe.

  • http://www.nomorebadtown.com NoMoreBadTown

    We have fought long and hard to escape from medieval superstition. I, for one, do not wish to go back.

    • DoorknobHead

      Did you see the “David Suhor” YouTube video with Christians trying to cast out demons in the background while David Suhor was giving a Satanic Temple invocation. I don’t think we ever escaped medieval supernatural beliefs.

      • http://www.nomorebadtown.com NoMoreBadTown

        I have not seen that yet, but I’ve bookmarked it to watch later. Thanks for the heads-up on that, sounds hilarious.

  • Reason2012

    The anti-science mythology of fish to mankind evolution is being pushed as the new belief system. And due to this, in the name of “I don’t really believe in God – we are all just worthless animals anyway”, over 57 MILLION sons/daughters have been slaughtered by their own parents with over a million more each year. We are headed to the darkest ages of the existence of humanity.

  • DoorknobHead

    Funny how most of the Christian specific sites are so slow compared to other discussion sites. It is like they have so many money making additional advertisements attached to all of their pages. Is religion about sales?