A Federal Appeals Court has stuck down an Indiana state law that required all couples - even non-believers - to have a member of the clergy officiate at their wedding.
In a unanimous decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that an Indiana law forbidding non-believers the right to be married by celebrants who share their lack of belief in a supreme being denies them their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.
Writing for the court, Judge Frank Easterbrook said the current law discriminated against atheists, humanists and members of religions that don't center around a deity, like Buddhism.
“It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriages if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a ‘religion'. It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace. Like many others, humanists want a ceremony that celebrates their values, not the ‘values’ of people who will say or do whatever it takes to jump through some statutory hoop.”
The suit was brought by a group of humanists who argued Indiana's law, which dates to the 1850s, denied them the right to be married by celebrants who share their philosophy. One of those plaintiffs, Reba Boyd Wooden, a secular officiant, reacted to the decision:
“The court has gotten this exactly right. Whether a person is atheist, agnostic, humanist, or simply doesn’t want a religious wedding, this decision means they can now have these wonderful occasions solemnized by a celebrant who shares their life-stance.”
The court directed Indiana to follow the lead of states like Florida, Maine and South Carolina that allow secular officiants to become notaries public in order to be allowed to perform weddings.
Another of the plaintiffs, Ronald A. Lindsay, whose company, The Center for Inquiry, trains wedding officiants reacted:
“This is a major victory for all secular Americans, who despite being part of the fastest-growing belief demographic in the United States, still suffer from discrimination and the special privileges accorded religion.
The court's ruling is effective immediately.
h/t Washington Post