Federal judge rules atheists must become ‘clergy’ to perform marriages

By David Edwards
Monday, December 3, 2012 15:52 EDT
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Priest administers wedding vows/nupituals in church (Flickr/stareja)
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A federal judge appointed by former President Ronald Reagan has ruled that a group of atheists in Indiana cannot performance marriages unless they “become a member of the ‘clergy’ by seeking immediate Internet ordination.”

In her ruling on Friday, Judge Sarah Evans Barker denied Center for Inquiry’s (CFI) request to expand who is allowed to solemnize marriages and sign marriage certificates, saying that the First Amendment was designed to give the power to churches, not nonbelievers.

Under Indiana law, marriages may be solemnized by members of the clergy, judges, mayors, town clerks, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Muslim imams and several other faiths. Center for Inquiry had sued the state with the hope of expanding the law to the nonreligious.

“We conclude that the Solemnization Statute is rationally related to the legitimate purpose of alleviating significant governmental interference with pre-existing religious beliefs about marriage,” Barker wrote.

She added that CFI could take advantage of “several readily available avenues by which a Secular Celebrant may facilitate a marriage ceremony in Indiana: she may (1) preside at a wedding and then instruct the couple to go before one of the individuals listed in the Solemnization Statute to have the marriage solemnized; (2) become a member of the ‘clergy’ by seeking immediate Internet ordination from the Universal Life Church; or (3) seek certification to solemnize marriages from the Humanist Society.”

As the judge pointed out, secular humanist group The Humanist Society is allowed to perform marriages in Indiana because it was charted as a religious organization.

But that’s exactly what CFI was hoping to avoid, according to Reba Boyd Wooden, who serves as the executive director for the CFI-affiliated Center for Inquiry Indian.

“If we would declare ourselves a religion, then we could do it,” Wooden explained to The Indianapolis Star. “But we’re very adamant we’re not a religion.”

[Photo: Flickr/stareja]

David Edwards
David Edwards
David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he's also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.
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