On Monday, October 23, 2023, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported that the Texas Supreme Court will hear arguments, on Wednesday, regarding the case involving a McLennan County justice of the peace who argues she has a religious exemption from performing same-sex weddings. Dianne Hensley, who has been a justice of the peace since 2014, initially stopped performing weddings after the US Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. She later resumed performing weddings for heterosexual couples only, citing her Christian beliefs.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public warning against Hensley in November 2019, stating that her actions demonstrated bias against certain citizens of Texas. Hensley responded by suing the commission, arguing that the warning violated her rights under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Hensley’s lawsuit seeks $10,000 in damages, a declaratory judgment that the commission violated her religious rights, and class-action relief to allow any justice of the peace to recuse themselves from officiating at same-sex weddings. The commission argues that the public warning is not about Hensley’s religious beliefs, but rather about her duty as a judge to act impartially and uphold the Texas Judicial Canons.
To strengthen her claim, Judge Hensley has submitted a letter to the court highlighting a relevant decision made by the Supreme Court in a related case. The letter provides notice of supplemental authority by bringing attention to the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, which has a bearing on the issues discussed in Hensley v. State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The commission’s attorney, Douglas Lang, said that Hensley’s actions undermine the public’s trust in the impartiality of the judiciary.
The Texas Supreme Court’s decision in this case will have far-reaching implications for religious freedom and the role of judges in Texas. The court is expected to issue a ruling later this year, and the outcome will likely influence similar cases nationwide.
Source: Waco Tribune-Herald