Texas Judge Opens Court With Prayer And Bible Readings To See Which Defendants Are Uncomfortable With Christianity

A Texas Justice of the Peace has repeatedly violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution in his own courtroom and the Freedom From Religion Foundation is outraged.

Montgomery County Judge Wayne Mack routinely begins court sessions with Bible readings that last minutes followed by a prayer before conducting judicial business. As a result, defendants fear that if they appear uncomfortable with the Christian ritual, the judge will be biased towards them when deciding their case.

In a complaint to the FFRF, a defendant described how Mack begins each session by warning court visitors that he’s about to read from the Bible and then say a prayer.

“We are going to say a prayer,” Mack announces. “If any of you are offended by that you can leave into the hallway and your case will not be affected.”

But their case being affected is precisely what many defendants fear. In a letter sent to Mack, the FFRF stated that a defendant believed the judge was observing who is a Christian and who is not, therefore developing a bias against certain defendants who do not share his faith.

I felt that the Judge was watching for reactions from the courtroom; bowed heads, indifference, etc. I definitely felt that our cases would be affected by our reactions [to the bible reading]. Once the Bible reading was over we were then asked to bow our heads to pray. I was very uncomfortable and certainly felt that I was being coerced into following this ritual and that the outcome of my case depended upon my body language.

The FFRF didn’t outright accuse Mack of being biased but cautioned him that bringing religion into the courtroom is a violation of the Constitution and he should stop doing it because he is a public official who is supposed to treat everyone equally under the law.

But Mack, being a conservative “Christian” judge in Texas, viewed the letter as an attack against his own religious freedom and sent an email to supporters asking for money and stated that he intends to defend his religious courtroom rituals at a Prayer Breakfast later this week. In short, he’s whining in an effort to make money.

I have been put on notice by the staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison Wisconsin. I will be addressing their demand that we “immediately end the practice of court prayer” at the Oct 23rd Prayer Breakfast. I am not seeking the potential controversy, as I will have to respond to these groups as well. We are on strong moral and legal ground. I want to make a statement to show those that feel what we are doing is unacceptable, that not only is it acceptable to our community, but show them that God has a place in all aspects of our lives and public service, during times of tragedy and conflict, when we as a community need to bring peace to the storm.

Nobody, not even the FFRF, is saying that Mack can’t be a practicing Christian in his community. What they are saying is that he cannot bring his religious beliefs in the courtroom, nor can he use them to make judicial decisions. His decisions must be made based on the Constitution and civil law, not the Bible.

In an article written for Liberty Magazine in 1998, Dr. Derek H. Davis wrote about this very topic of religion in the courtroom. According to him, what Judge Mack is doing violates the very foundation of the American principle of separation of church and state.

When judges publicly practice religion in their courtrooms, their conduct translates into official governmental action having a threefold effect: it places the government’s endorsement upon religion; it has a direct coercive effect on others; and it gives a strong inference that the judge’s decisions and rulings are predicated on a basis other than the law of the land.

Liberty Magazine was founded in 1906 as a magazine of religious freedom dedicated to the defense of separation of church and state. Dr. Davis was the director of J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University when the article was published in 1998.

The point is clear, however. As a government official, Mack should remain neutral on the issue of religion, but it’s clear that he is incapable of doing so. He not only blatantly and openly defies the Constitution, he violates the religious rights of those in his courtroom who are not Christians. It’s highly unlikely that Mack would tolerate a person exercising their own non-Christian beliefs in his courtroom. Plus, as a person in a position of power, he is able to force his beliefs down people’s throats because they would fear challenging him due to the fact that he holds their judicial fate in his hands. Those who actually go into the hallway to avoid Mack’s preaching automatically put their cases at risk because Mack will already have a negative opinion of them simply because they don’t share his beliefs. This is wrong in a society that is supposed to value equality and justice under the law, and Mack needs to either stop doing it or resign his office.