Attorney General Ken Paxton today filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to defend Montgomery County and Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack’s practice of allowing volunteer chaplains to open his court proceedings in prayer.
Earlier this year, the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against Montgomery County alleging that the courtroom prayer practice of Judge Mack violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In August 2016, Attorney General Paxton – in response to a request from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick – issued an opinion that Judge Mack’s practice follows the model the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Town of Greece v. Galloway. A subsequent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in American Humanist Association v. McCarty supports the attorney general’s opinion.
In his brief, Attorney General Paxton explained that government bodies and courts throughout Texas solemnize their meetings with prayer. Such practices, including those of Judge Mack, are deeply rooted in our nation’s history and tradition, and the U.S. Supreme Court and 5th Circuit have repeatedly upheld such practices.
“Judge Mack’s tradition of courtroom prayer is constitutional and follows the Supreme Court’s model of acceptable religious expression,” Attorney General Paxton said. “The case against Montgomery County for Judge Mack’s practices should be dismissed. The lawsuit is nothing more than another attempt by a group to exclude religious freedom from public life.”
Last May, Attorney General Paxton filed a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, but it was denied by the district court on December 12.