Can court hearings commence with multi-faith prayers? Judges now rule

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A decision announced by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling and endorsed the multi-faith invocations that a Texas judge uses to open his court sessions.

First Liberty explained that the invocation program is used to honor volunteer ministers who respond to emergencies in the county, and it includes Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Christian faith leaders.

The ruling said in the case brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, “The plaintiffs cry coercion because Texas Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack opens his court with a ceremony that includes a prayer. But Mack also takes great pains to convince attendees that they need not watch the ceremony – and that doing so will not affect their cases. Some attendees say they feel subjective pressure anyway. Yet the plaintiffs have no evidence suggesting that ‘coercion is a real and substantial likelihood.'”

“The Fifth Circuit rightly concluded that Judge Mack’s brief ceremony respects a rich historical tradition of opening judicial proceedings with an invocation,” said Bradley Hubbard, the Gibson Dunn attorney who argued the case in April. “As the court explained, the ‘history, character, and context’ of Judge Mack’s ceremony ‘show that it is no establishment at all.'”

Mack said, in a statement released through the legal team, “I am eternally grateful to the judges on the Fifth Circuit who upheld this historical practice. I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Montgomery County.”

Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty, commented, “America has a rich tradition of opening public meetings – including judicial proceedings – with an invocation. Welcoming a volunteer chaplain to lead an invocation according to the tradition of his or her faith reflects the very best of our nation’s values.”

Mack, whose duties include serving as a coroner for Montgomery County, created a volunteer chaplaincy program, which includes leaders from a diverse array of faith traditions, to aid members of the community while he conducts independent death investigations. In his role as Justice of the Peace, Judge Mack allows the multi-faith, volunteer chaplains to open his courtroom ceremonies with a brief invocation and the pledge of allegiance in order to honor their service, First Liberty said.

WND had reported a year ago that explained Mack he offers a “brief ceremony” to honor those who volunteer their services to the community.

Mack had explained, “I simply provide the opportunity for our volunteer chaplains from all faith traditions to offer remarks and, if they choose, a brief invocation. It is frustrating that this lawsuit against a longstanding, historic practice continues to distract us from the business of serving the people of Montgomery County.”

The judge notifies those who come to his court they are not required to be at the invocation, with a sign saying, “If is the tradition of this court to have a brief opening ceremony that includes a brief invocation by one of our volunteer chaplains and pledges to the United States flag and Texas state flag. You are not required to be present or participate. The bailiff will notify the lobby when court is in session.”

Those who dislike the practice have been trying to get it stopped for nearly a decade.

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