I’m pretty certain that high on the list of Things Judges Should Never Do is make the parties in front of them extremely uncomfortable.
Both sides expect a fair hearing and anything that detracts from that is a problem. Obviously.
So what the hell was Texas Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack (below) thinking when he opened a recent court session with a five-minute Bible reading followed by a formal prayer?
That’s what the Freedom From Religion Foundation wants to know:
We understand that in August you opened one of your court sessions with the Christian prayer. We believe that this is regular practice in your courtroom. A concerned Montgomery County resident who had business before you contacted us to report that after you entered the courtroom you stated, “We are going to say a prayer. If any of you are offended by that you can leave into the hallway and your case will not be affected.” After that announcement, we understand that you introduced a pastor who read from the bible for more than five minutes. While the pastor was reading, our complainant says, “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].” Our complainant further says, “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.”
Mack never responded to the letter, sent a month ago, however he has scheduled a prayer breakfast in a few days and will talk about the situation then. In an email to supporters, he said this:
… I will be addressing [FFRF’s] 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. That it is reflected in how we as a community respond and treat each other during these times of tragedy.
There you have it — a judge who doesn’t understand the First Amendment. Separation of church and state isn’t something you can throw out just because the majority of the community doesn’t like it. Mack thinks that pushing his faith through his position is more important than providing a safe space for the people who come in front of him. That alone should disqualify him as a judge.
And just to reiterate a point I’ve made repeatedly, Mack would never be able to get away with this if he was anything other than Christian.