right to religious freedom was violated when she was reprimanded for refusing to marry same-sex couples.
Dianne Hensley, a justice of the peace in McLennan County, was reprimanded by the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2019. She had quit performing marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling in 2015, then resumed in 2016 but served only heterosexual couples, The Dallas Morning News reports. She said that officiating same-sex marriages would violate her Christian beliefs.
After the disciplinary action, she filed a lawsuit saying the commission should be prevented "from investigating or sanctioning judges or justices of the peace who recuse themselves from officiating at same-sex weddings on account of their sincere religious beliefs." Such sanctions are a violation of the state's religious freedom law, her suit argued.
But a three-judge panel of the Texas Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the law bans only "threatened or continued violation" of a person's religious practice. She had received a single reprimand, and the commission hadn't expressed an intention to discipline her again, the judges said. The commission was acting within its rights and was shielded from lawsuits by sovereign immunity, the legal doctrine that a governmental body can't be sued without its consent, they added. The appeals court's decision upheld a trial court's dismissal of Hensley's suit.
Hensley can appeal her suit to the Texas Supreme Court, but she and her lawyer haven't said if she will. Her lawyer is Jonathan Mitchell, a longtime anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion activist. He crafted a Texas anti-abortion law, and in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that resulted in the overturning of Roe v. Wade, he argued that the high court should rescind the "court-invented rights to homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage" as well.
Mitchell also brought a case that led a federal judge to rule this year that a requirement for insurers to cover HIV prevention drugs violated the companies' religious freedom rights. Recently, he filed a suit arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court's Bostock v. Clayton County ruling, which banned anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in employment, shouldn't apply to bisexuals.