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Texas Judge Victorious Over Atheist Group in Prayer Dispute

Judge Wayne Mack, a justice of the peace in Montgomery County, Texas, recalls several people telling him they were initially worried about coming before his court, but after the chaplain’s prayer opened the proceedings, they felt better.

“It was clear it would be a solemn event and they knew I would be fair,” Mack told The Daily Signal in a phone interview a day after the Texas attorney general’s opinion held that opening court with a chaplain’s prayer and the voluntary chaplain program Mack established were constitutional.

Mack started a voluntary chaplaincy program that has more than 60 clergymen participating, including Christians, Jews, Hindus, and people of other faiths. It openly invites, “all religious leaders of any faith in to participate.”

As a justice of the peace, Mack also serves as the coroner for the Montgomery County. It was in this duty that he first implemented the voluntary chaplain program, after finding himself not always able to console people when he had to be first on the scene for deaths.

In a six-page opinion issued Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton noted the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, which determined that initiating local government meetings with prayer did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ”

Paxton compared Mack’s courtroom with the Town of Greece, New York, writing, “In both instances, religious leaders of any faith are invited to deliver a prayer at the beginning of proceedings.”

“A court would likely conclude that a justice of the peace’s practice of opening daily court proceedings with a prayer by a volunteer chaplain as you describe is sufficiently similar to the facts in Galloway such that the practice does not violate the Establishment Clause,” the opinion reads.

He added, “A court would likely conclude that the volunteer chaplain program you describe, which allows religious leaders to provide counseling to individuals in distress upon request, does not violate the Establishment Clause.”

The Paxton opinion cited lower court rulings on chaplain programs.

“Courts in other jurisdictions have likewise upheld the hiring of chaplains by a county hospital, prisons, and military establishments in order to provide counseling and guidance to individuals who request it,” the opinion said.

It added, “In each of these cases, the chaplains were paid by public funds, creating more significant Establishment Clause concerns than exist here, where the chaplains serve on a voluntary basis without cost to the taxpayer and only upon request of those who wish to receive the chaplain’s assistance.”

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation isn’t happy with the opinion, but asserts that the matter is likely over because two individuals who regularly appear before the court felt “fearful” about how Mack would judge their case and are not willing to file a suit.

“We are confident that if we could bring this [case] before a federal judge, we could prove this far exceeds precedent, but we can’t do that without a plaintiff willing to challenge Judge Mack,” said Sam Grover, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in a phone interview with The Daily Signal.

There was never an intent to offend anyone, and whether someone participated in the courtroom prayer would have no affect on the ruling, Mack said.

“I would never use the bench as a pulpit,” he said. “Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court open with prayers.”

The Texas attorney general’s opinion marks a decisive victory for Mack, after getting a mixed victory before the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, based on the Freedom From Religion Foundation complaint from 2014. The judicial commission dismissed the complaint, but “strongly cautioned” against the chaplain program and prayer.

But the commission ruling that offered neither discipline nor a mandate to stop, led Mack and First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom advocacy group that represents the judge, to seek more clarity. In February, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Paxton to issue a clarifying opinion on the constitutionality of the case.

“The attorney general’s opinion is clear and sound constitutionally,” Mack said. “It emboldens believers of any faith to stand up for the First Amendment because it’s the First Amendment for a reason. The tyranny of political correctness is causing people to step away from their values. They should stand up and be counted.”

The attorney general opinion offers a clear victory, said Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute.

“This is a total victory for Judge Mack and for the citizens of Texas,” Shackelford said in a statement. “If the Supreme Courts of the United States and Texas can open with prayer, clearly, the law allows for Judge Mack’s court to open with an invocation by a volunteer chaplain. We are grateful Attorney General Paxton has brought clarity to this important issue, reaffirming the constitutionality of prayer in the public arena.”

However, Grover of the Freedom From Religion Foundation contends that Paxton did not address the group’s main points from a letter sent in April.

“None of the points we raised were addressed. The opinion barely scratches the surface,” Grover said. “This far exceeds the ceremonial acknowledgment of a deity to open of the the Supreme Court or the Texas Supreme Court.”

Grover said merely allowing multiple faiths to participate in the chaplain program doesn’t mean it’s not exclusionary to nonbelievers.

“It makes the violation less severe, but a prayer in any setting, any prayer of any religion leaves out a large segment of nonreligious people,” Grover said. (For more from the author of “Texas Judge Victorious Over Atheist Group in Prayer Dispute” please click HERE)

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University of Texas Professors Sue Over Concealed Guns Allowed in Their Classrooms

Three professors are fighting a Texas law that allows students to carry concealed handguns in their college classrooms.

Senate Bill 11, allowing concealed handgun license holders 21 and older (or 18 if active military) to carry in campus buildings, was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, in June 2015. The law went into effect Aug. 1 this year.

Lawyers for Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore, and Mia Carter, all professors at the University of Texas at Austin, made their case to a federal judge last week.

The professors requested a preliminary injunction to block the new campus carry law and had filed suit on July 6 against the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton; the president of the University of Texas at Austin, Gregory Fenves; and members of the University of Texas Board of Regents.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel made no ruling during the court hearing after lawyers for the professors and for the university struggled to agree on the university’s rules and policies on concealed weapons, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Instead, Yeakel requested more information to clarify university concealed weapon policies.

“Compelling professors at a public university to allow, without any limitation or restriction, students to carry concealed guns in their classrooms chills their First Amendment rights to academic freedom,” the lawsuit says.

Paxton, the Republican Texas attorney general, called the professors’ lawsuit “frivolous.”

“There is no legal justification to deny licensed, law-abiding citizens on campus the same measure of personal protection they are entitled to elsewhere in Texas,” Paxton said in statement.

Paxton filed a response with the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas Austin Division on Aug. 1 in opposition to the University of Texas professors’ request for preliminary injunction.

The professors “have no right under the First Amendment to violate the Second Amendment rights of students,” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal. “And it is insulting to law-abiding gun owners—categorizing them as crazies who will kill someone over a debate in a classroom.”

A 1995 Texas law allows concealed handguns to be carried in public, including on the grounds of public college campuses, but previously excluded campus buildings, the Statesman reported.

Under the new law, public institutions of higher education cannot “generally” prohibit license holders from carrying concealed weapons, but are allowed to establish “rules, regulations, or other provisions” restricting guns from places like labs with dangerous chemicals and regarding the storage of handguns in residential dorm facilities.

Private colleges can opt out of the law. So far, almost all private institutions of higher education have decided to opt out, The Dallas Morning News reports.

Moore, one of the plaintiffs, who teaches English and gender studies, told NPR that “it’s impossible to do our jobs with this policy in place.” She continued:

We all teach subject matter that is quite sensitive, and we all use very participatory, you know, pedagogically sound methods of trying to teach students how to state their views on controversial subjects, challenge one another and stand up for what they believe in.

“I am genuinely not equipped to keep students safe from a firearm in my classroom,” Moore added.

Allison Peregory, a 21-year-old University of Texas pre-law student, plans to get a state-issued concealed weapon license and carry on her campus, The Dallas Morning News reported.

“It’s important for people to have their right to self-defense be protected,” Peregory said, according to the Morning News.

Aug. 1 marked the 50th anniversary of a mass shooting that took place at the University of Texas at Austin.

“It is quite ironic; they [the professors] are apparently unaware that private citizens, including students, helped police in 1966 stop Charles Whitman, the University of Texas Tower sniper, when they grabbed their guns and started firing at the sniper in the tower,” Heritage’s von Spakovsky said. “One of those Texans, Allen Crum, even climbed to the top of the tower with a rifle to assist the policeman who eventually killed Whitman.”

Brian Bensimon, Students for Concealed Carry’s director for the state of Texas, told The Daily Signal that the professors’ lawsuit is “perplexing.”

“Concealed carry is allowed in our state capitol,” Bensimon said. “There’s plenty of open debate and lively discourse there.”

Students for Concealed Carry is trying to block a University of Texas rule that allows professors to ban concealed weapons from their individual office space. The group filed a complaint with Paxton on Aug. 4.

“Gun control advocates think that gun bans will make people safer,” John R. Lott, a columnist for FoxNews.com and author of “The War on Guns,” wrote in an op-ed. “But banning guns only ensures that law-abiding good citizens are disarmed, not the killers. Instead of bans improving safety, these bans attract killers and make it easier for them to commit crimes.”

Eight states—Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin—have provisions allowing concealed weapons to be carried by students on public higher education campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eighteen states ban carrying concealed weapons on college campuses. (For more from the author of “University of Texas Professors Sue Over Concealed Guns Allowed in Their Classrooms” please click HERE)

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Texas Gets the Best Deal It Could With DOJ on Voter ID for the Election

It looks as if Texas, the Justice Department, and all of the other parties, including the NAACP, involved in the challenge to the state’s voter ID law have worked out an interim settlement—and the district court judge approved the deal today after a telephonic hearing Wednesday morning. That deal is probably about the best deal Texas could expect to get given the circumstances and personalities in the case.

In Veasey v. Abbott, Texas (and the cause of election integrity) suffered a blow three weeks ago when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the voter ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it supposedly had a discriminatory effect, despite the fact that there was no evidence that the ID law had diminished turnout in Texas elections.

In fact, as the dissent pointed out in the appeals court, “despite extraordinary efforts,” neither the Justice Department nor any of the other so-called civil rights organizations who sued were able to uncover any Texas voters who were unable to vote because of the law.

The 5th Circuit sent the case back down to the district court to fashion a remedy for the small number of Texans who the court claimed could not obtain the free ID that the state issues to anyone who doesn’t already have one. It also told the district court to “re-examine” the evidence on whether the Texas Legislature had intentionally discriminated when it passed this law.

The district court judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, a 2011 President Barack Obama appointee, had found Texas guilty of purposeful discrimination even though, as the dissent noted in the appeals court, “the multi-thousand page record yields not a trace, much less a legitimate inference, of racial bias by the Texas Legislature.”

Ramos even made the bizarre claim that the voter ID law was a prohibited poll tax, despite the state providing free IDs to its residents. Fortunately, that wacky ruling was thrown out by the 5th Circuit.

However, on Aug. 3, the parties in the case filed a “Joint Submission of Agreed Terms” with Ramos. In it, the parties have agreed that Texas voters who don’t have one of the acceptable photo IDs under the statute will still be able to vote if they:

present a valid voter registration certificate, a certified birth certificate, a current utility bill, a bank statement, a government check, a paycheck, or any other government document that displays the voter’s name and an address and complete and sign a reasonable impediment declaration.

The “reasonable impediment declaration” is a reference to the type of form that is used in South Carolina, which also has a voter ID law. If a voter shows up at a polling place without an ID, he or she is able to vote upon completion of a form in which the voter declares that there was a “reasonable impediment” that prevented him from getting an ID.

This provision of South Carolina’s voter ID law was upheld as perfectly acceptable and not a violation of the Voting Rights Act by a three-judge federal panel in 2012 in South Carolina v. United States, a case in which South Carolina successfully challenged the Justice Department’s refusal to approve the ID law.

What is bizarre about this is that the North Carolina Legislature copied that “reasonable impediment” exception in its voter ID law, and yet a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that law to be a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The North Carolina decision, NAACP v. McCrory, directly conflicts with the 2012 South Carolina decision. But that earlier loss by the Justice Department may help explain why it has agreed to this settlement with Texas that uses the same “reasonable impediment” exception that the 4th Circuit just invalidated.

Texas actually managed to get better terms than either North or South Carolina since, in addition to completing a “reasonable impediment” declaration, the voter will have to show some kind of document such as a utility bill or bank statement with his name and address.

This actually copies a provision in the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, 52 U.S.C. § 21083(b), which requires any individual who registers to vote by mail to provide a copy of a “utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.”

It is not as good as a government-issued photo ID, but this is probably about the best that Texas could get given the federal judges it is dealing with in the 5th Circuit. And it is difficult for the Justice Department to claim that a requirement modeled on a federal voting requirement is discriminatory.

Texas is also asking that language be included in the interim order issued by the district court judge that makes it clear that the state is not waiving any of its rights to seek appellate review of the decisions that have been issued in this litigation. It also wants it explicitly laid out that the Texas Legislature will not in any way be limited from fashioning its own remedy or otherwise amending the voter ID law when it returns for its 2017 session.

From the standpoint of Texas, this is probably the best deal it could get. The earlier ruling of Ramos displayed a bias against voter ID laws in general , as evidenced by her apparent belief that there are no rational reasons for a legislature to pass a voter ID law other than to discriminate against minority voters.

Fortunately, she approved the deal Wednesday. She did not approve the requested language about the Legislature, but a source tells me that she apparently recognized from the bench that she can’t prevent the Legislature from acting in the future. (For more from the author of “Texas Gets the Best Deal It Could With DOJ on Voter ID for the Election” please click HERE)

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Federal Court Issues Voter ID Ruling That Could Impact Election

A federal court ruled Wednesday that Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act prohibition on racial discrimination in elections.

In its 9-6 ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the 2011 voter ID law makes it harder for blacks and Hispanics to vote, and asked a district court to make changes to the law before the general election in November. “The district court must ensure that any remedy enacted ameliorates [the law’s] discriminatory effect, while respecting the legislature’s stated objective to safeguard the integrity of elections by requiring more secure forms of voter identification,” the court said.

The law, Senate Bill 14, requires voters to present proof of identification, including a state driver’s license or ID card, a U.S. passport, an election ID certificate, a military ID card, a concealed handgun license or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

Proponents said it prevents voter fraud, and noted that Texas makes it easy for voters to acquire ID cards free of charge.

In the ruling, however, Judge Catharina Haynes wrote, “The record shows that drafters and proponents of SB 14 were aware of the likely disproportionate effect of the law on minorities, and that they nonetheless passed the bill without adopting a number of proposed ameliorative measures that might have lessened this impact.”

Judges who disagreed with the ruling said, “Requiring a voter to verify her identity with a photo ID at the polling place is a reasonable requirement widely supported by Texans of all races and members of the public belonging to both political parties. The majority ruling ‘fans the flames’ of perniciously irresponsible racial name-calling.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the court had “wrongly concluded” that the law had a discriminatory effect. “Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the election process,” he said in a statement.

The Texas Democratic Party, on the other hand, celebrated the ruling. “The most restrictive and discriminatory Republican voter ID law in country has been struck down,” it said. (For more from the author of “Federal Court Issues Voter ID Ruling That Could Impact Election” please click HERE)

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Texas Student Suspended After Carrying Classmate Having Asthma Attack to Nurse

A Killeen mother is defending her son who was suspended after helping a fellow student having an asthma attack.

Anthony Ruelas, 15, said his eighth grade classmate was wheezing and gagging for three minutes Tuesday morning while no one did anything. But when Ruelas did do something, he apparently broke the rules.

“He may not follow instructions all the time, but he does have a great heart,” said Mandy Cortes, Ruelas’ mother.

Ruelas goes to Gateway Middle School, an alternative school in the Killeen Independent School District. Ruelas has been suspended before, but Tuesday was different.

“I wasn’t trying to hear it,” said Cortez. When she picked her son up from school for the suspension she told him,”No, they already told me what happened you walked out of class, and he was like ‘ok forget it’, but I can tell, ya know you know your kids, I could tell he was upset.” (Read more from “Texas Student Suspended After Carrying Classmate Having Asthma Attack to Nurse” HERE)

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Baby Jesus, ‘Merry Christmas’ Banner Removed from VA Hospital

Photo Credit: KENS5 A manger and a banner reading “Merry Christmas” were removed from a public area of a VA hospital in Texas after someone complained about “overly religious and offensive” decorations . . .

Holloway said she had been putting up decorations at the Audi Murphy VA Hospital for 33 years – without any problems. This year, her yuletide banner turned out to be problematic.

“They literally took pieces from the middle of a whole train set, because the middle said ‘Merry Christmas,’” helper Grace Martinez told the television station.

The South Texas Veterans Health Care System admits they removed not only Holloway’s “Merry Christmas” banner, but also a manger along with a “specific scripture decoration.”

“During the removal of a manger and specific scripture decoration, a Merry Christmas decoration was accidentally removed and damaged,” read a statement from the VA to Fox News. “The remaining decorations were removed by the decoration donor and her representatives.” (Read more from “Baby Jesus, ‘Merry Christmas’ Banner Removed from VA Hospital” HERE)

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Hospital Trying to End the Life of a CONSCIOUS Patient [+video]

A Texas mother claims a hospital is seeking to end the life of a her son who is a fully conscious patient. The patient’s mother says that a hospital administrative death panel is “Playing God” in deciding whether her son has the “quality of life” to continue to live.

Her son, Christopher David Dunn, 46, a fully-conscious former peace officer, is receiving life-sustaining care. Hospital officials in Houston are fighting to stop that care.

The man, his mother, and his lawyers, have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to save the man’s life. His attorney, Joe Nixon, told Breitbart Texas, “A criminal on death row in Texas has more rights than a patient in a Texas hospital.” He says a Texas statute denies a patient all due process rights and is unconstitutional.

Trey Trainor, another lawyer with the same firm who is representing Dunn, says Texas law gives a hospital the right to make life or death decisions without consulting the patient or the patient’s family.

Dunn is fully conscious but is receiving oxygen and antibiotics through two tubes down his throat. He is receiving fluids and nutrients intravenously. (Read more from “Hospital Trying to End the Life of a CONSCIOUS Patient” HERE)

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Texas AG: ‘In God We Trust’ Decals on Cop Cars Constitutional

There’s nothing wrong with stickers or decals featuring the phrase “In God We Trust” on police vehicles, the Lonestar state’s top cop assured lawmakers.

Attorney General Ken Paxton weighed in on the matter on Nov. 4 with a letter to two Republican state senators who asked if police departments were inviting legal trouble by including the phrase on patrol cars. Pointing to precedent in a series of court cases, Paxton noted challenges to “In God We Trust” on money, police vehicles and goverment property haven’t been successful.

“Displaying ‘In God We Trust’ on police vehicles is a passive use of a motto steeped in our nation’s history that does not coerce Citizen approval or participation,” Paxton wrote to the state senators. “A law enforcement department’s decision to display the national motto on its vehicles is consistent with that history. Thus, a court is likely to conclude that a law enforcement department’s display of ‘In God We Trust’ on its patrol vehicles is permissible under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

Slapping the phrase on police vehicles has become a contentious issue in recent months, with more than 60 police departments — most of them in the south and midwest — approving decals or stickers on patrol cars, according to the National Constitution Center, a Philadelphia-based non-profit dedicated to civic education.

In each case, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has challenged the use of the phrase on government-owned vehicles. The Wisconsin-based group advocates for separation of church and state in all matters, and has said the phrase amounts to “phony pandering” to the nation’s religious demographic, especially in socially conservative states. “In God We Trust” became the national motto in 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law, a move that also made the phrase mandatory on American currency. (Read more from “Texas AG: ‘In God We Trust’ Decals on Cop Cars Constitutional” HERE)

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Here’s Why Planned Parenthood Is Suing Texas

Planned Parenthood and 10 of its patients sued the state of Texas on Monday to block officials from cutting off Medicaid funds, calling the state’s actions political and part of a long-term pattern of denying reproductive healthcare to women.

“Women in Texas today have fewer rights than they did when I was growing up, and less access to healthcare,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards told reporters when announcing the lawsuit. “This time, they’re targeting some of the most vulnerable Texans — women who already have the least access to healthcare in the country.”

Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott announced in October that state health officials were kicking Planned Parenthood and its affiliates out of the Medicaid program, which pays for procedures such as cancer screenings, birth control and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

In a statement at the time, Abbott said the state was acting in response to a series of antiabortion videos, which accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood denies the allegations, and more than half a dozen state investigations have cleared the organization of wrongdoing.

“The gruesome harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood will not be allowed in Texas, and the barbaric practice must be brought to an end,” Abbott said at the time. “As such, ending the Medicaid participation of Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state of Texas is another step in providing greater access to safe healthcare for women while protecting our most vulnerable — the unborn.” (Read more from “Here’s Why Planned Parenthood Is Suing Texas” HERE)

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Something Very Strange Is Taking Place off the Coast of Galveston, TX

Having exposed the world yesterday to the 2-mile long line of tankers-full’o’crude heading from Iraq to the US, several weeks after reporting that China has run out of oil storage space we can now confirm that the global crude “in transit” glut is becoming gargantuan and is starting to have adverse consequences on the price of oil.

While the crude oil tanker backlog in Houston reaches an almost unprecedented 39 (with combined capacity of 28.4 million barrels), as The FT reports that from China to the Gulf of Mexico, the growing flotilla of stationary supertankers is evidence that the oil price crash may still have further to run, as more than 100m barrels of crude oil and heavy fuels are being held on ships at sea (as the year-long supply glut fills up available storage on land). The storage problems are so severe in fact, that traders asking ships to go slow, and that is where we see something very strange occurring off the coast near Galveston, TX.

FT reports that “the amount of oil at sea is at least double the levels of earlier this year and is equivalent to more than a day of global oil supply. The numbers of vessels has been compiled by the Financial Times from satellite tracking data and industry sources” . . .

And unlike the last oil price collapse during the financial crisis only half of the oil held on the water has been put there specifically by traders looking to cash in by storing the fuel until prices recover. Instead, sky-high supertanker rates have prevented them from putting more oil into so-called floating storage, shutting off one of the safety valves that could prevent oil prices from falling further. (Read more from “Something Very Strange Is Taking Place off the Coast of Galveston, TX” HERE)

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