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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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