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Judge Rules Atheist Group Cannot Perform Marriages

A U.S. District judge has ruled against atheist organization the Center for Inquiry in its bid to strike down Indiana’s marriage statute as unconstitutional.

Marriage in Indiana is a two-step process: receiving a marriage license and making the marriage official. The state’s marriage statute specifies who can perform that second step, which includes the clergy of any religious group and certain government officials like mayors and judges. By disallowing celebrants from the Center for Inquiry to solemnize, the CFI claimed the state was favoring religion and making non-religious people unequal under the law.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker disagrees, saying the CFI’s complaint was about an inconvenience, not unconstitutionality. Barker says granting clergy the right to perform marriages is the kind of accommodation of religion the First Amendment protects, not a denial of rights to the nonreligious. She also rejected the claim that CFI and its non-religious members are a “suspect class” with a history of unequal treatment.

But CFI-Indiana executive director Reba Boyd Wooden says atheists are one of the few groups it’s still considered acceptable to denigrate.

“If we were denying the equal rights to Jews or Muslims or LGBT people or an ethnic group, people would not accept that at all," she says.

Barker says the statute provides for non-religious alternatives.

Wooden says the CFI will appeal the ruling.

Network Indiana contributed to this story.

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