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Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Texas Judge Finds Way To Marry Same-Sex Couples Without Violating Her Faith, Gets Punished

For all that’s said about Texas, there are still elements of the state that do not necessarily mix with conservative values about the Constitution. For McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley, she found out the hard way that the First Amendment’s religious protections only go so far in The Lone Star State.
Texas law does not require judges to officiate weddings, but they are free to do so if they wish. Hensley noticed that after the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2015, which paved the way for same-sex marriages across the country, most judges in Waco and McLennan County simply stopped officiating weddings. This meant that same-sex couples wishing to get married would have to travel to be married, which would end up costing them more.
Hensley came up with a solution that allowed her to continue to live in accordance with her faith, but still allow same-sex couples to get married in her courthouse. She worked with a local private vendor and her staff to make sure her courthouse still officiated marriages that she herself would not have to officiate for religious reasons. This plan also worked if scheduling prevented her from officiating a marriage. 
No complaints were filed against Hensley for her workaround, yet some time after the program started, she received a “Public Warning” from the Commission for Judicial Conduct, which had investigated her for her solution.
Hensley has now sued the commission with the help of the First Liberty Institute, which represents clients with religious liberty issues. Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications at the Institute, said in a press release that Hensley was punished for “meeting the needs of her community.”
“Because of Judge Hensley, anyone who wants to get married in McLennan County can get married,” Dys said.  “For simply trying to reconcile her religious beliefs while meeting the needs of her community—ensuring anyone can get married who wants to be married—the Commission on Judicial Conduct punished her.”
Hensley’s lawsuit claims the “Commission violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by investigating and punishing Judge Hensley for recusing herself from officiating at same-sex weddings, in accordance with the commands of her Christian faith.” 
“By investigating and punishing her for acting in accordance with the commands of her Christian faith, the State of Texas has substantially burdened the free exercise of her religion, with no compelling justification,” she adds in her lawsuit.
Hensley is seeking $10,000 in damages for the Commission’s actions.
First Liberty has been responsible for some interesting cases in the past few years. Earlier this year the Supreme Court heard the case of the Bladensburg Cross, which had been erected as a memorial for World War 1 casualties. Opponents in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and the American Humanist Association argued that the cross violated the Constitution. They argued that it elevated religion above nonreligion and Christianity above all other religions. The Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that this was not the case and that the cross was part of a nationwide trend in the early part of the 20th century to honor the dead with monuments from the community, many of which were crosses.

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