JudicialLocal NewsTexas House Members Submit Brief in Support of Judge’s Voluntary Chaplaincy Program

Texas legislators, the attorney general, and religious groups have submitted briefs in support of Judge Wayne Mack’s voluntary chaplaincy program.
October 4, 2021
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Seventeen Republican Texas legislators filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals asking the court to uphold Judge Wayne Mack’s voluntary chaplain program which the district court ruled unconstitutional as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) is the lead legislator on the brief and is joined by colleagues from around the state in urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to support Mack and reverse the lower court decision. 

In July, the court granted a stay pending appeal after a district judge held that Judge Wayne Mack had violated the Establishment Clause. “Judge [Mack] made a strong showing that the district court erred,” the panel of judges stated in its decision.

Seven years ago, Mack, who is a justice of the peace in Montgomery County, established a chaplaincy program of clergy and laypersons from a variety of faiths and denominations. The program was created to aid members of the community while he conducts independent death investigations. The chaplains are regularly invited to offer a prayer or encouraging words before the first case is called. 

This week, First Liberty, a nonprofit legal organization committed to defending religious liberty, representing Mack, filed its appellate brief with the Fifth Circuit. Several amicus briefs were filed in support, including the aforementioned legislators’ brief, one that includes the Texas Catholic Council of Bishops, and one filed jointly by the states of Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

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In their brief, the House members argue that the plaintiffs, John Roe and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, have no standing because Roe, a self-proclaimed atheist attorney, hasn’t been a litigant in Mack’s courtroom for over four years and said he has no intention of representing clients there in the future and therefore can’t complain about practices in a courtroom to which he is not exposed.

Additionally, the amici legislators argue that Roe’s complaint as an “offended observer” of the voluntary ceremony at the opening of the court session does not rise to the level of an Establishment Clause violation.

The states’ amicus brief also argues against the district court’s decision regarding the Establishment Clause, saying, “The logic of the district court’s decision could be applied to prohibit any role for religious invocations in any government proceeding.”

The brief by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which is joined by both Jewish and Islamic organizations, takes a strong stance against the previous decision by the district court. 

“The district court’s overreaching application of the Establishment Clause, however, is a dangerous stride toward the total eradication of religion from the public square. That’s not what our nation’s founders meant. Nor is it what the text they wrote and enacted demands. The district court’s decision is a departure from any correct understanding of the Establishment Clause, poses a serious threat to religious freedom for all, and should be reversed,” the groups’ brief reads.

Roe and the Freedom from Religion Foundation will have several weeks to respond to the appellate brief before the case is set for oral argument, First Liberty’s Jeremy Dys told The Texan.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.