An appeals court in America has overturned a ruling in Texas that banned a local judge from opening his court sessions with prayer. Wayne Mack, a judge in Montgomery County, has been under scrutiny due to opening his court sessions with a chaplain-led prayer. If anyone did not want to be present during the prayer, they were allowed to leave the courtroom. However, some advocacy groups criticised this practice, claiming it was discriminatory. In 2019, an unnamed lawyer, in partnership with the Freedom from Religion Foundation, decided to sue Mr Mack over this practice claiming that the act was discriminatory. Sam Grover, the plaintiff’s representative, made the argument that “By opening each session of court with a person’s religious belief, you’re sending a message that religious people are favoured while the non-religious are not.”
However, Mike Berry from the non-profit Christian legal group First Liberty Institute challenged this claim, stating that the act of prayer is common in courts. Both the US Supreme Court and Texas Supreme Court open with an invocation, a feat that resembles a prayer in essence. In May 2021, a federal judge ruled against Mr Mack’s practice. The judge decided that he was presenting his religious views “before a captured audience of litigants and their counsel…to advance, through the Chaplaincy Program, God’s ‘larger purpose'” and that “Such a magnanimous goal flies in the face of historical tradition, and makes a mockery of both, religion and law.” However, Mr Mack challenged the ruling in an appeals court and has now been able to get it overturned.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay, a ruling to halt further proceedings, that would permit a chaplain to pray in Mr Mack’s court. The circuit judge noted that his practices made the ability to abstain clear and proclaimed that there was no evidence that the court rulings were impacted by not being involved in prayer. “I am so very grateful that we have our chaplaincy program in place,” Mack told the Houston Chronicle in a written statement, “to assist with helping families in our county through terrible tragedies and to provide a moment of perspective as our court begins proceedings.”
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