AUSTIN – I sent Attorney General Ken Paxton a formal request for an opinion on the constitutionality of a volunteer-led justice court chaplaincy program and ceremonial court prayer. This request stems from a complaint filed against Judge Wayne Mack from Montgomery County and my continuing efforts to protect religious liberties in Texas.
Recently, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Wayne L. Mack was investigated by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct for providing a volunteer-led justice court chaplaincy program and ceremonial court prayer. In his dual role as Justice of the Peace and County Coroner, Judge Mack is called upon to respond to death scenes and often witnesses grieving friends and family of the deceased in need of consolation. In response, he created a volunteer-led justice court chaplaincy program – open to chaplains of all faiths – which he could call upon when requested.
To recognize their personal sacrifice to serve others and to solemnize his court proceedings, Judge Mack invites these chaplains to give a brief prayer during the opening ceremonies of his court. Participation in the opening ceremonies is strictly voluntary, and court participants are free to observe or leave the courtroom at will.
Eventually, the case involving Judge Mack was dismissed in its entirety by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. However, as stated in my opinion request, there would be no need for an opinion request had the Commission simply allowed their dismissal to speak for itself.
Instead, in a bow to political correctness, or for other unknown reasons, the Commission issued a letter to the Judge “strongly caution(ing him) against continuing with the Justice Court Chaplaincy Program and (his) current courtroom prayer service.”
Based on United States Supreme Court precedent, in my view, both of these programs are constitutional and consistent with a long history in the United States of acknowledging the role of religion in American life by all three branches of government.
It is my hope that an expeditious opinion by the Texas Attorney General will provide Judge Mack and all Texas Judges the clarity they deserve as to the constitutionality of these programs.
OAG Opinion Request (203KB, PDF)