Indiana News

Judge Rejects Atheist Bid for Right to Perform Marriages

Center for Inquiry blasts "privileging of religion"

12/3/2012

A federal judge has rejected an Indianapolis atheist group's bid for the right to perform marriages.

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Judge Sarah Evans 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.

American Civil Liberties Union-Indiana attorney Ken Falk says he's disappointed by the ruling -- he says nonbelievers deserve accommodation too. He'd argued in court that past cases grant similar rights to nonreligious groups with a strongly-held philosophy.

The Indianapolis chapter of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) filed the lawsuit, and issued a statement blasting the ruling for "its casual acceptance of the privileging of religion."

Barker says CFI is taking two contradictory positions: arguing that the law spelling out who can solemnize a marriage is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, while demanding to be included in that endorsement. She notes CFI has gone to great pains to emphasize it is not a religion.

"We will not declare that CFI is a religion [only] when it suits the group to be classified as one," Barker writes.

The judge notes the secular humanist group The Humanist Society is chartered as a religious organization in Indiana and has the power to solemnize marriages. CFI executive director Reba Wooden, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, held a Humanist Society certificate for six years. She estimates she performed about 50 wedding ceremonies before going to work for CFI and surrendering her license because of CFI's insistence on avoiding any religious connotation.

Falk says he believes the ruling should be appealed, but says he hasn't had the chance yet to discuss it with CFI.

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