Judge Can Lead Prayer in Courtroom, Federal Appeals Court Rules

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A U.S. appeals court has ruled that court proceedings can begin with a prayer.

Texas Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack was sued by The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) for beginning his day in court with prayer.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said that “We cannot credit the plaintiffs’ assertion that coercion in a courtroom doesn’t come from the imposition of actual prejudice; it comes from a perceived risk of prejudice. The plaintiffs must present evidence that any such perception is objectively reasonable — evidence from which we can conclude that ‘coercion is a real and substantial likelihood.”

The ruling was 2-1 in favor of the judge continuing to have prayer in his courtroom.

Mack must allow all faiths the right to pray in the courtroom.

Mack’s attorney, Bradley Hubbard, said, “The 5th Circuit rightly concluded that Judge Mack’s brief ceremony respects a rich historical tradition of opening judicial proceedings with an invocation.”

“I am eternally grateful to the judges on the 5th Circuit who upheld this historical practice,” Mack said. “I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Montgomery County.”

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According to the Houston Chronicle, the FFRF has not yet determined if it will appeal the decision. FFRF leaders did express their dissatisfaction with the ruling. “A courtroom is not a church and a judge’s bench should not be a pulpit,” Gaylor said. “It is a dishonest decision claiming a tradition of courtroom prayer and denying it is coercive,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation.

The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc, et al, v. Mack, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-20279.

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