Justice of the Peace fights for right to have volunteer chaplains give invocation

A justice of the peace in Texas is fighting for his right to have a program allowing volunteer chaplains representing a wide range of faiths deliver ceremonial invocations to open his court sessions.

First Liberty Institute said the fight on behalf of Judge Wayne Mack is now at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court approved discrimination against those involved.

‘The brief ceremony honors the community service of volunteer chaplains from a wide array of faiths and follows a long, historic tradition of opening judicial proceedings with an invocation,” explained Allyson Ho, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which is working with First Liberty on the case.

Mack 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.”

Jeremy Dys, who is First Liberty’s special counsel, said America’s “rich tradition” is of having judicial proceedings open 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,” he said.

Mack right now is permitted to continue his program of invocation under a ruling from the appeals court that stays in effect while his court fight develops.

Mack, who also is Montgomery County coroner, set up his program to help members of the community.

“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. The chaplaincy program includes leaders from multiple faiths, including Christian, Sunni Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu religious leaders,” the institute reported.

Mack’s filing with the appeals court notes that the practice of invocations actually is older than the nation itself.

Further, “this court and the Supreme Court have held repeatedly that practices like this that are rooted in the nation’s history are consistent with the Establishment Clause – including invocations before official proceedings.”

Mack’s program is to honor chaplains who volunteer to be on call and respond when there is a need in his duties as coroner. He started the plan after a situation some years ago that resulted in the death of a woman, whose family wanted a chaplain.

Because no one was available, Mack set up a volunteer program for chaplains to respond to emergencies, and then allows them to provide an invocation in court.

The judge already 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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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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