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A Texas county justice of the peace can open sessions with chaplain-led prayer despite anger from the Freedom From Religious Foundation (FFRF), a federal appeals court ruled.
The FFRF, a group of atheists, agnostics, and free-thinkers, filed complaints and several lawsuits against Judge Wayne Mack, a justice of the peace and the county coroner in Montgomery County who is represented by First Liberty Institute.
Pending a final decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay Friday permitting Mack to continue regularly opening his courtroom with “encouraging words” or prayer from a volunteer chaplain, a program he started.
The ruling comes after District Court Judge Kenneth Hoyt’s decision in May found the practice unconstitutional.
“I am pleased that this program can continue while we are presenting our case to the 5th Circuit,” Mack said in a statement, adding that he is grateful for the program to assist families in the county going through horrible tragedies.
Justin Butterfield, deputy general counsel to First Liberty, celebrated the stay.
“We agree with the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that prohibiting the prayers was wrong,” Butterfield said. “It’s time for the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to end their harassment of Judge Mack.”