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Atheist Group Argues In Court For Right To Perform Weddings

marriage altar

Photo: Claire (Flickr)

Only religious and state officials are allowed to perform wedding ceremonies in Indiana.

A secular organization, the Center for Inquiry, argued in federal court Monday that Indiana’s marriage statute is unconstitutional because it does not allow non-religious organizations to marry people.

Under Indiana statute, marriage is essentially a two-step process. The state issues a marriage license and then it is solemnized. The state’s marriage statute spells out who can solemnize, including religious organizations and some elected officials.

Solicitor General Thomas Fisher says the purpose of the statute is for the state to regulate marriage while accommodating religious groups and providing alternatives for non-religious organizations.

“Once you get beyond the contours of the historical accommodation we’re talking about, it’s pretty difficult to find a neutral rule that limits who can solemnize but still include CFI,” he says.

The state also says allowing the CFI to marry people could open the doors to any group.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Indiana branch is handling the case for the Center for Inquiry. ACLU legal director Ken Falk says there is a neutral principle that other courts have regularly used.

“There’s a difference between chess club and atheism,” he says. “There’s a difference between a life philosophy that fulfills the function of what a religion does for a religious person and something that doesn’t.”

While questioning the attorneys, federal judge Sarah Evans Barker said she believed the statute was generic enough that it could include the CFI under a broad definition of religious organization. But CFI asserts it is not a religious group because it has no belief in a higher power or supreme being. Barker did not set a specific timetable for her ruling.

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  • Endsville

    It’s very nice to see these progressive issues brought to light in “good” ‘ole Indiana. I get so sick of over-privileged religious types constantly abusing their majority popularity to hold back those whose beliefs are not as theirs. They cannot, and would not take a second out of their lives to see that others just want to have the same priviliges they take for granted. And though they enjoy those privileges, they actively seek to oppose others’, all the while pretending that they are the ones under assault. Shameful, and arrogant.

  • c smythe

    Can you not simply get a license at the court house then have your wedding any way you like? This method is free of religion . . .

  • Reba Boyd Wooden

    Yes, you may and if that is satisfactory to you that is fine. However, if you are religious, you don’t have to do this two step process. You can just go to your clergy person and get the marriage both solemnized and have the ceremony you want.

  • The_Countess

    here in the Netherlands you can get a official from your city/town to come to your location. you don’t have to go anywhere to get married, they will come to you.
    no religion involved and you can make it actual wedding ceremony.
    having to go to a courthouse isn’t very romantic to say the least.

  • jim kirby

    I have started the process of forcing a change in the rules that certify chaplains for service in hospitals, prisons and the military. There is currently no provision for a secularist chaplain to serve the needs of patients, interns and soldiers.

    The organization usually relied on for certification of chaplains requires 3 years of post-graduate religious training, followed by ordination by a religious organization. This is obviously inappropriate training for a secularist chaplain (three years of science and math studies, along with some counseling classes, would be more appropriate).

    Chaplain positions are usually paid positions, so that, while some facilities have provision for a person to call in a “counselor” of his choice, that counselor would not be paid and you would not be well-served if you were not familiar with the policy or the counseling options available.

    I expect resistance by the military and by the Roman Catholic Church, not so much by prisons. I myself, physicist and attorney, have undergone two years of seminary training, including pastoral counseling classes and hospital chaplaincy.

  • Pingback: Atheist Group Sues Indiana, Demanding Right to Have ‘Secular Celebrants’ Legally Marry Non-Believers | News

  • Nick Bulka

    sorry, I’m an atheist, but not only is there no need for this, since anyone can be married by a justice of the peace, judge, and many other govt. officials, but Falk is wrong in his contentions. Yes, a there is a difference between a chess club and atheism, but not in the way he presents it. A chess club is an organized group of people with a common interest. Atheism is a lack of belief in a deity. It’s not organization, there is no membership list. It is NOT a life philosophy, nor does it fulfill any function that a religion would. A chess club would actually have more claim to the right to marry people.

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