Court upholds Indiana’s ban on secular wedding officiants

A federal court in Indiana has rejected atheists’ requests to preside at wedding ceremonies, saying only clergy or public officials … Continued

A federal court in Indiana has rejected atheists’ requests to preside at wedding ceremonies, saying only clergy or public officials are licensed to solemnize marriages.

A lawsuit filed by the Indiana chapter of the Center for Inquiry argued that an Indiana law that requires marriages to be “solemnized” — made official by signing a marriage license — only by clergy, judges, mayors or local government clerks — violates the Constitution.

But Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled on Friday (Nov. 30) that marriage has religious roots. Therefore, government regulation of marriage is an act of religious accommodation — not endorsement — and protected by the Constitution.

She also noted that Indiana’s law does not limit who may marry the plaintiffs, but only who may sign their license.

“We in no way intend to question or disparage plaintiff’s opinions regarding the institution of marriage,” Barker wrote in her ruling. “But we must gently remind plaintiffs that the free exercise clause (of the Constitution) is not a guarantee against inconvenience.”

CFI, a 24,000-member secular humanist organization based in New York, had argued that barring “secular celebrants” from solemnizing marriages provides preferential treatment to religious celebrants. CFI began certifying celebrants to perform marriages and other ceremonies in 2009.

CFI’s lawsuit was filed last October on behalf of John Kiel and Michelle Landrum, two Kentucky residents who wished to be married in Indiana by Reba Boyd Wooden, a CFI-certified secular celebrant. All three were co-plaintiffs in the suit.

Ron Lindsay, CFI’s president, promised an appeal of Barker’s ruling.

“It would be difficult to imagine a clearer way to classify nonbelievers as second-class citizens,” Lindsay said in a statement. “A wedding is one of the most important ceremonies in a person’s life, and it is just as meaningful to atheists as it is to theists. It’s disappointing that a 21st-century court refused to recognize this reality.”

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller described the current law as a “very reasonable requirement.”

“The court found that couples who wish to marry without involving clergy have many alternatives for doing so,” he said. “My office will continue to defend the statute if necessary.”

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

  • zengardener

    It will only be fair when they either throw out the priests or let the celebrants in.

  • Secular1

    Most definitely this wall must be torn down. Just like anyone can become a Notary Public, anyone should be able to get certified as a Marriage Officiator. The Officiator must be required to officiate any and all marriages, just like the “Notary Public” has to notarize for everyone.

  • Red Murray

    Unconstitutional. Barker’s biased ruling will be overturned.

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

concert
Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

shutterstock_37148347
What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.