Shotgun wedding draws heat from AU after judge forces couple to marry, groom to write Bible verses

by Gregory Tomlin |

(KLTV/ Screengrab)Judge Randall Rogers recently forced an East Texas man to marry his girlfriend within 30 days or face 15 days in jail. He also ordered the man to write Bible verses and seek counseling. Americans United (for Separation of Church and State) condemned the ruling in a letter Aug. 10. The ruling also prompted a White House petition.

TYLER, Texas (Christian Examiner) – A shotgun wedding of sorts in Texas has Americans United, a liberal church-state watchdog group, issuing a stern condemnation of the judge who ordered it.

In July, Judge Randall Rogers told Josten Bundy, charged with misdemeanor assault for punching his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend after he made a disparaging remark about her, that he would have to choose between marrying his 19-year-old girlfriend and spending 15 days in jail.

The judge also told Bundy that, in addition to marrying his girlfriend, Elizabeth Jaynes, he was required to write down Bible verses and seek counseling for his anger.

... it is also well established that government officials may not force citizens to marry one another—as a condition of parole, or otherwise. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to privacy and prohibits the government from interfering with citizens' intimate associations, including marriage.
-Letter from Americans United

"This is, to put it simply, outrageous and unconstitutional," Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement. "Judge Rogers seems to think he's running a combination Sunday school and relationship counseling service. He needs to get back to dispensing secular law."

Americans United sent a letter to Rogers Aug. 10 asking him to "refrain from imposing conditions requiring religious activity (including Bible reading or the writing of Bible verses) or conditions relating to fundamental privacy interests such as marriage, and that you rescind any such requirements from existing orders."

"Second," the letter says, "it is also well established that government officials may not force citizens to marry one another—as a condition of parole, or otherwise. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to privacy and prohibits the government from interfering with citizens' intimate associations, including marriage. Because marriage is a fundamental right, government officials cannot interfere with the decision, either by prohibiting marriage or requiring it: 'the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.'"

Americans United's Senior Legal Counsel Gregory Lipper asked for Judge Rogers to respond to the letter within 30 days.

According to KLTV in Tyler, Bundy testified in court that he struck his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend twice while defending her honor. The man was not injured significantly, but pressed charges against him.

"I took matters into my own hands and I know that's wrong," Bundy said at his hearing. "I know I was raised better, but it happened."

At his sentencing hearing, Judge Randall Rogers asked Bundy about the fight and asked him if his girlfriend was "worth it."

"I said, well to be honest, sir, I was raised with four sisters and if any man was talking to a woman like that," recalled Bundy, "I'd probably do the same thing."

Rogers then asked Bundy if he was married to Jaynes. He then said, "You know, as a part of my probation, you're going to have to marry her...within 30 days."

If Bundy declined to do the probation, he would be sentenced to 15 days in jail. He was only given a moment to decide and was not allowed to call his employer to find out if he would lose his job if he was incarcerated. Bundy opted to marry his girlfriend and complete the other punishments.

"My face was so red, people behind me were laughing," Jaynes told KLTV. "[The judge] made me stand up in court."

On Friday, Aug. 7, a citizen from Pennsylvania filed a White House petition calling for the disbarment of Judge Rogers. According to the petition:

"'Honorable' Randall Rogers, a Smith County, Texas judge, ordered a young couple to get married or have the defendant serve 15 days in jail. The young lady was not asked if this was per her wishes. She was treated as a piece of property. This judge is in violation of at least, their First Amendment rights and should be disbarred for this heinous acting of taking away personal will."

Rogers has refused to comment on his ruling.