A New Orleans-based appeals court ruled that a Texas judge can continue his prayer ceremonies at the start of his courtroom proceedings.
According to Faithwire, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 in favor of Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack last Thursday.
"I am eternally grateful to the judges on the 5th Circuit who upheld this historical practice," Mack said in a statement following the ruling. "I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Montgomery County."
The case at hand involved a 2019 lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group comprised of atheists and agnostics, who argued that Mack's practice of beginning each court day with a prayer delivered by faith leaders from the community.
"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 judges wrote in their opinion. "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 judges also said that Mack can continue his daily prayer practice in the courtroom as long as he allows leaders from different faith backgrounds to participate and does not penalize anyone who chooses not to participate.
However, U.S. Circuit Judge E. Grady Jolly dissented, arguing it was "reasonable to believe that non-participation will draw his ire, as the former Pentecostal minister campaigned on having prayer in his court" and "has acted hostile following a litigant's noncooperation in the prayer."
Allyson Ho, an appellate lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who represented Mack, said that the court recognized "that the history, character, and context of his opening ceremony – which includes welcoming volunteer chaplains of all faiths to lead invocations according to the diverse traditions of those faiths – comports with the Constitution."
Meanwhile, FFRF's co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, called the decision "disturbing," according to the Houston Chronicle.
"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."
Last week's ruling comes years after a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stated prayers before government meetings were constitutional.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.