Navy Employee Told He Can’t Get Married in a Government Chapel Because He’s Not a Christian

Ensign Sean A. Cruz is an active-duty officer who graduated last year from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. He likes the place so much that he asked for permission to get married there. To be precise, he would like to tie the knot in the Naval Academy’s Main Chapel:

U.S. Naval Academy Chapel (Image via Jeff Milsteen)

The Chapel’s wedding coordinator, Claire MacCallum, asked Cruz to submit an application, and eight weeks after he did, she turned him down. The reason? Cruz, his name notwithstanding, is not a Christian. He had told MacCallum that he had chosen Jason Torpy to do the ceremony; Torpy is the president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and a registered Humanist celebrant in Maryland (as well as an occasional contributor to this site). Cruz is also a MAAF member and a Humanist, so the request makes a lot of sense.

According to a letter (PDF) written to the Naval Academy by lawyers at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) in Washington D.C., MacCallum notified Cruz over the phone that

… his application had been denied because it would be inappropriate to hold a non-religious wedding ceremony in the Chapel.

MacCallum appears to base her ukase on an official Navy “instruction” which says

“Christian weddings are celebrated in the Main Chapel by duly ordained and endorsed Christian Chaplains or clergy.”

Fine, but that’s a far cry from a policy forbidding non-Christians to get married there. Cruz’s lawyers reckon with the possibility that MacCallum simply didn’t interpret (or read) the rule carefully enough — which is a helluva lot nicer than accusing her of pettiness and/or bias. The AHLC’s position is that MacCallum’s nixing of Cruz’s request is a violation of both the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, and of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

Bill Burgess of the AHLC noted:

“Weddings performed by humanist celebrants are legal everywhere in the country, as are weddings performed by many other non-Christian officiants… There is no valid reason the U.S. Naval Academy’s chapel can’t be used by all of them.

We’ll keep you posted.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.