FFRF sues Texas judge again to end courtroom prayer practice

FFRF filed a lawsuit against Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack on May 29, 2019, due to his refusal to end the divisive practice of opening each of his court sessions with chaplain-led prayer.

Despite numerous complaints regarding the practice, which is not commonly done in other courtrooms anywhere in the country, Judge Mack insists on opening his court session with chaplain-led prayer. Attendees have reported Judge Mack surveying the courtroom during prayers and feeling that their cases may be affected by how they chose to react.

Judge Mack has his courtroom bailiff announce the prayers and state that anyone may leave the courtroom and their case will not be affected, although the courtroom doors are locked to those outside. Then Judge Mack enters, talks about his chaplaincy program, introduces a chaplain, and gives the name and location of the chaplain's church. While everyone in the courtroom remains standing, the chaplain, who is almost always Christian, delivers a prayer, with no guidelines from Judge Mack regarding permissible content.

The lawsuit comes after FFRF’s initial lawsuit against Montgomery County, challenging the same practice, was dismissed without prejudice on September 27, 2018, for lack of redressability, without reaching the merits of the constitutional claims. U.S. District Court Judge Ewing Werlein Jr., for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, dismissed the original case because the only defendant was Montgomery County, which has no control over Mack’s courtroom practices.

The anonymous “John Roe” plaintiff is being represented by FFRF Associate Counsel Samuel Grover, with FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell and Attorney Ayesha Khan of Washington, D.C. serving as co-counsel. The current lawsuit is Case No. 19-cv-1934 in the Southern District of Texas, with Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt presiding.

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