Texas Supreme Court: Christian Judge Who Recused Herself from Officiating Same-Sex ‘Weddings’ Can Sue State Agency Over Reprimand

Judge Dianne Hensley, a justice of the peace in McLennan County, Texas, is a Christian who believes what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality: marriage is the union between one man and one woman, and homosexuality is a sin.

The judge recused herself from officiating homosexual “weddings” but created a referral list of local judges who did. She isn’t required to officiate weddings. Nevertheless, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded her. The commission issued a public warning against her and cast doubt on her capacity to act impartially in her cases due to the person’s sexual orientation. That was unnecessary and no doubt intended to mar Judge Hensley’s character.

Judge Hensley had the right to appeal the reprimand to the Special Court of Review and deal with the matter internally but chose to file suit in court on the grounds that the commission violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The commission argued that it lacked jurisdiction. A lower court dismissed her case over lack of jurisdiction, and an appeals court agreed.

First Liberty Institute, which represents the judge, argued her case before the Texas Supreme Court last October. And won last Friday.

The state’s highest court said (PDF) that the judge’s lawsuit is not barred based on her decision not to file in the Special Court of Review. The court affirmed the appeal court’s dismissal of Judge Hensley’s Free Speech Clause claim based on lack of jurisdiction but reversed the rest of the judgment and remanded the case back to the appeals court.

“Judge Hensley’s way of reconciling her religious beliefs while meeting the needs of her community is not only legal but should stand as a model for public officials across Texas,” said Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel for First Liberty Institute. “This is a great victory for Judge Hensley and renews her opportunity to seek justice under the religious liberty protections of the law.”

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