Religious Freedom Case of Waco Judge Who Refused to Perform Same-Sex Ceremonies Dismissed

A religious freedom case filed by Waco Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley in response to public discipline she received for refusing to officiate at same-sex ceremonies has been dismissed.

Judge Jan Soifer, a Travis County district court judge, granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case based on jurisdiction.

Hensley sued the State Commission on Judicial Conduct and its members in December 2019 for violating her religious liberty and freedom of conscience rights as protected by the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

The commission issued a public warning to Hensley in November 2019 stating that she cast  “doubt on her capacity to act impartially to persons appearing before her as a judge due to the person’s sexual orientation in violation of Canon 4A(l) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.”

The court dismissed Hensley’s case, finding that Hensley failed to exercise remedies available to her and that the defendants had immunity from her suit. 

Additionally, the court agreed with the defendants that the case impermissibly asked for an advisory opinion.

Because of her faith, Hensley, who has been a justice of the peace in the Waco area since 2015, refused to officiate ceremonies of same-sex couples. 

However, she created a referral system for those seeking services for same-sex ceremonies, including one just three blocks from her office for the same price that she charges.

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in 2015, all judges in Waco stopped performing all weddings.

State law allows, but does not require, a justice of the peace to officiate weddings.  

Hensley stopped officiating weddings for a time, but then recognized a need in her community for low-cost officiant services. So Hensley took the initiative and made arrangements with a local wedding chapel to facilitate weddings that she, whether for religious or scheduling reasons, could not officiate.

Additionally, Hensley has clerks in her office who are willing and able to officiate weddings.  

“We are disappointed but we have always known that this case is eventually headed to the Texas Supreme Court for their consideration. It will be a long period of time before we reach a final resolution,” Jeremy Dys, special counsel for Litigation and Communications for First Liberty, who represents Hensley, told The Texan.

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