CFI Files Secular Celebrant Suit in Indiana


The Center for Inquiry has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a law in Indiana that forbids secular organizations and individuals from performing legal marriages, reserving that power for clergy and certain elected officials only. You can read the full complaint here.

The ACLU of Indiana is representing them in the suit and they provided a press release about it:

“From a First Amendment perspective, it is proper and necessary for the state to allow religions to marry
people according to their beliefs,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk. “However, the state law becomes unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause when you say that religions are the only groups with rights to have their beliefs recognized in marriage ceremonies.”

Falk said the statute, Indiana Code § 31-11-6-1, also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it denies the non-religious group its rights to spread its “essential beliefs” by performing marriage ceremonies, while allowing religious groups those same privileges.

There’s a similar case going on in Nevada.

Comments

  1. says

    This is exactly the sort of thing I imagine when I say “an attack on same-sex marriage is an attack on all marriage.” Same-sex marriage is banned in a lot of places, and now they’ve got laws like these designed to effectively ban people like me from getting married.

  2. says

    I’m wondering how this law is actually enforced. I’m an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church Monastery (an online ordainment mill). Officially speaking, I’m clergy with a federally recognized religious group, albeit one whose doctrine is mainly “there are many paths to enlightenment”. I’m also an atheist and I’ve performed a wholly secular wedding ceremony.

  3. jamessweet says

    I’m wondering how this law is actually enforced.

    It’s not, at least not in the sense that there’s anything to stop an atheist from going to an online ordainment mill and performing a wedding. That’s why this hasn’t been a priority. It’s mostly symbolic… but the symbolism is important. Why do you have to get a bullshit ordainment? What purpose does that serve?

  4. Glenn E Ross AKA HeartlessB says

    I was married in Indiana in 1981 in a small ceremony at my wife’s best friend’s home. I found a minister in the classifieds that would come to the house and perform the ceremony for 50 dollars. Before the ceremony I told the minister that if she mentioned god during the ceremony she would not be paid. She was paid.

    I’m glad she had her priorities straight.

  5. Chiroptera says

    “From a First Amendment perspective, it is proper and necessary for the state to allow religions to marry people according to their beliefs,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk.

    Actually, for a marriage to be legally valid, it should be proper and necessary to swear the proper oaths before an authorized representative of the state and sign the license in front of her. Then, as far as the state is concerned, the deed should be done.

    Then, if the couple wishes an extra religious or secular ceremony to make it more meaningful to them, they can do it on their own, officiated by whoever they want.

    That’s my opinion, anyway.

  6. d cwilson says

    I wonder what the headline for this will be on the Drudge Report/Fox Nation. I’m betting:

    “ACLU files suit to prevent religious clergy from performing marriage”.

  7. eric says

    d cwilson – or possibly “Atheists admit atheism is a religion, demand it be treated like Christianity.”

  8. bbgunn says

    “ACLU files suit to prevent religious clergy from performing marriage”.

    “Atheists admit atheism is a religion, demand it be treated like Christianity.”

    Actually, it’ll probably be something like: “Obama to Ban Christians from Marrying.”

  9. slc1 says

    I’m a little confused here. Does this mean that a judge can’t perform a marriage in Indiana?

  10. zmidponk says

    Hmm. I wonder what, exactly is ‘a member of the clergy of a religious organization’ is, legally speaking? I ask, because if I lived in Indiana, and claimed to be the sole member and minister of the newly formed Lesser Reformed Church of Nobody At All, Really, would this mean that, as I am, therefore, ‘clergy’, this allows me to perform legal marriages there?

  11. Jordan Genso says

    James Sweet

    It’s not, at least not in the sense that there’s anything to stop an atheist from going to an online ordainment mill and performing a wedding. That’s why this hasn’t been a priority. It’s mostly symbolic… but the symbolism is important. Why do you have to get a bullshit ordainment? What purpose does that serve?

    I just got married three months ago, and I had my father be the officiant. He is an atheist, but did get “ordained” online in order to perform the ceremony. I don’t know if there was a secular option or not (here in Michigan), but the upside is now his friends all get to jokingly call him Reverend Ron.

    I agree the symbolism is important, but without knowing if there was a different option available to us, we didn’t feel too burdened from the process.

  12. jefferylanam says

    @slc1: The complaint to which Ed linked includes the text of Indiana Code 31-11-6-1. I can’t copy and paste the text from the PDF, but basically it lists ten categories of people who can solemnize a marriage in Indiana. Six are clergy or other religious organizations (e.g. Quakers have no clergy, all those present at the wedding sign as witnesses.) The other four are a judge, a mayor, a town clerk or clerk-treasurer, or a circuit court clerk. The Center for Inquiry is suing for the right to be included in that list.

  13. slc1 says

    Re jefferylanam @ #13

    Fair enough. Does this mean that mayors can preside at a marriage ceremony but the Governor of the state cannot?

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