Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

State News

July 14, 2014

Secular celebrants may perform marriages

-- — Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that the exclusion of certified secular humanist celebrants from the list of people who can solemnize marriages in Indiana was unconstitutional and ordered the state to allow these celebrants to conduct weddings.

"As the court noted, the First Amendment demands neutrality," said American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana legal director Ken Falk. "This prevents the state of Indiana from doing what it attempted to do in this case -- favor religion over a nonreligious-based system of belief and morality that is equivalent to religion, except for a belief in God."

Indiana Code 31-11-6-1 allows certain civic leaders, such as mayors and clerks, as well as clergy and designates of certain religions to solemnize marriages. Excluded are certified secular celebrants from the Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization that provides a belief structure comparable to religion.

CFI's Secular Celebrant Program trains participants to conduct marriage ceremonies in accordance with the center's essential beliefs, so that its members can have meaningful weddings featuring an assertion of their philosophical and ethical views. CFI believes in fostering a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values in which the dignity and fundamental rights of all individuals are respected. CFI does not oppose the free exercise of religion.

"This is a big step forward in recognizing the rights of nonreligious persons," said Center for Inquiry executive director Reba Boyd Wooden. "Now couples may have a secular celebrant who shares their world view solemnize their marriage."

The decision, Center for Inquiry, Inc. v. Marion Circuit Court Clerk and Marion County Prosecutor, Case No. 12-3751, was entered in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit July 14.

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