MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas -- A Justice of the Peace in Montgomery County has found himself at the center of a federal lawsuit.
The fight is over the judge’s tradition of praying to begin court every day.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, along with three anonymous plaintiffs, filed the lawsuit in March claiming the prayer violates their First Amendment Rights.
Wayne Mack, Justice of the Peace for Montgomery County Pct. 1, launched the chaplaincy program in 2014.
Through the program, religious leaders from all faiths assist with victim outreach as part of the judge’s duties as coroner. Faith leaders also perform a prayer invocation before court sessions each day.
“I modeled this courtroom invocation after the Texas Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and many other government bodies,” Mack said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called a news conference Wednesday afternoon to announce his intervention in the federal lawsuit.
Federal court records show a motion was filed Wednesday morning to dismiss the case.
“It’s amazing in a country founded on religious liberty, the centuries old practice of judicial and public bodies opening with prayer is coming under attack,” Paxton said. “Judge Mack’s courtroom prayer is lawful, constitutional, and embodies religious expression. One of the core principles which our country was founded on.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation released a statement regarding Paxton’s involvement:
“In his motion to intervene, Paxton asserts only a vague interest in advancing religious prayers at government meetings. The motion fails to assert a specific interest that ties the attorney general's office or TCOLE to Judge Mack’s courtroom prayer practice. The only connection between the two seems to be Paxton’s interest in helping out his friends at First Liberty. FFRF considers this requested intervention to be an abuse of Paxton’s power as attorney general in order to advance the religious mission of a private advocacy organization. FFRF will submit to the court a thorough opposition to Paxton’s proposed intervention.”