A Texas justice of the peace is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to permanently allow the voluntary prayer sessions that begin his court’s proceedings, according to an appeal filed last week.
Judge Wayne Mack of Conroe, Texas, wants the appellate judges to overturn a lower court ruling in May that barred voluntary prayer before sessions, saying the ruling “makes a mockery of both religion and law.”
In a Sept. 22 filing to the 5th Circuit, Judge Mack‘s attorneys argue the lower court’s ruling that voluntary prayer during the opening of court proceedings “violates the Establishment Clause is contrary to the precedent of the Supreme Court and this Court.”
U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt, a Reagan appointee, issued the ruling against prayer before court proceedings.
Judge Mack‘s filing notes that the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway permitted volunteer chaplains to open town council meetings. It says Judge Mack‘s practice should be viewed in the light of “historical practices and understandings” of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
“I simply provide the opportunity for our volunteer chaplains from all faith traditions to offer remarks and, if they choose, a brief invocation,” Judge Mack said in a statement released by First Liberty Institute, the conservative Christian nonprofit law group that is representing him.
But Texas attorney “John Roe” and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for atheists and agnostics, say that Judge Mack has tried to “infuse religious practice” in the courtroom.
The foundation’s associate counsel, Sam Grover, told The Times that Mr. Roe “has lost business” because he won’t appear before Judge Mack and that if the lawyer were to step out during the prayer sessions, he “would do a disservice to his clients.”
Mr. Grover said he anticipates filing a response brief by Nov. 22 and “is feeling pretty confident” that Judge Hoyt’s ruling will be upheld by the appeals panel.