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Judge Sued For Starting Court Hearings With Prayer

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A Texas judge is being sued for carrying out Christian prayers in his courtroom.

Judge Wayne Mack, a justice of the peace in Montgomery County, Texas, has had volunteer pastors lead eight-minute sermons at the beginning of each court session since he assumed the bench in 2014, according to the San Antonio Current. Listening to the sermon is not mandatory and Mack reportedly tells people who might be "offended" by the Christian ritual that they can leave the courtroom and come back when it has concluded.

Mack's actions have now inspired a lawsuit, filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of an unnamed Christian, an atheist and a religiously unaffiliated person. FFRF is a nonprofit that advocates for the separation of church and state.

"The guest chaplain then stood and read from the Christian Bible for five to eight minutes, directing the reading to those present in the courtroom," the lawsuit claims, according to The Christian Post. "After the five- to eight-minute sermon, the guest chaplain asked everyone to bow their heads for a prayer. During the prayer, Judge Mack did not bow his head, but observed those in the courtroom."

The lawsuit claims described how one of the plaintiffs felt when she was in the courtroom during Mack's prayer ritual.

"She did not leave after the invitation to do so out of fear that her actions would prejudice Judge Mack against her," the lawsuit continues. "She felt compelled by government authority to demonstrate obeisance to someone else's religion."

Mack makes no secret about his religious leanings. During the 2014 Republican primary campaign for the seat of justice of the peace of Montgomery County, Mack "ran on a platform of reinstituting religious values within the office, in part through implementing a Chaplaincy Program to assist the Justice of the Peace," according to the lawsuit.

But FFRF says Mack's reinstitution of "religious values" is really just a way of using his platform and authority to push Christianity, which could be a violation of the First Amendment.

"All of the prayers witnessed by the three individual plaintiffs in Judge Mack's courtroom have been sectarian prayers, delivered by Christians, in the name of Jesus," the lawsuit reads. "The primary effect of Judge Mack's courtroom prayer practice is to advance religion in general, and Christianity specifically, through the machinery of the judiciary. Due to the prayer practice, Judge Mack's courtroom has become excessively entangled with an exclusively religious ritual."

First Liberty CEO and President Kelly Shackelford, a supporter of Mack, told The Christian Post that the judge isn't doing anything wrong and should instead be commended for his Christian prayer ritual. First Liberty is a a religious liberty advocacy and legal defense organization.

"Judge Mack's program is an excellent idea and a great way to serve the community," Shackelford said. "It has already been upheld by both the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Texas attorney general."

"The law and Constitution are on Judge Mack's side," he says.

Sources: San Antonio Current, The Christian Post / Photo credit: Wayne Mack/Facebook

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