An Atheist Just Sued the State of Illinois for Not Allowing Secular Celebrants to Solemnize Marriages

Four years ago, the Center For Inquiry sued Indiana over its marriage laws. The state permitted people of faith to be married by their religious leaders while denying that same option for non-religious people who wanted their marriages performed by a Secular Celebrant.

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Atheists (who cared about such things) could have a judge do it, or use someone certified by an online church, or have a Celebrant present for the ceremony even though it wouldn’t “count” until one of the first two options signed the paperwork. But Secular Celebrants alone? Not allowed.

In 2014, after a defeat in a lower court, CFI won that case in the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Now they’re trying to win the same battle in Illinois.

Challenging the constitutionality of religious privilege in Illinois marriage law, the Center for Inquiry filed suit today in federal court to ensure that nonreligious residents can have their marriages solemnized by a secular celebrant that shares their worldview and values. Currently, only religious officials and select government employees may solemnize marriages in Illinois.

“The values of the nonreligious are held just as deeply, and felt just as strongly, as the beliefs of any religious person,” said Nicholas Little, Vice President and General Counsel of CFI. “Secular Illinoisans should not be relegated to having such an important life milestone passed off to a government functionary. They deserve the right to have their marriages solemnized by an officiant who represents and shares the values they hold dear.”

“We made a sincere effort to find a way to rectify this pointless snub of the secular community without litigation, but that effort reached a dead end,” said Little. “If anyone can go online and simply purchase a $25 ordination from a made-up church, surely extending this basic right to secular couples and celebrants is long overdue.”

The suit is brought forth by Galen Broaddus, a “certified secular celebrant trained by CFI” who is unable to offer his services to people in the state.

Galen, who also writes at Patheos, explained how litigation was really the last option:

I’ve talked directly with two state senators and one state representative (two Republican and one Democrat) about fixing the inequity in the law, and every single one of them expressed their agreement on the issue. We were even able to move a bill through the state senate before the session ended and we ran out of time in the house.

Illinois legislators not getting work done?! This is shocking news… to nobody in Illinois.

The lawsuit points out that he has had multiple requests to officiate and solemnize weddings, but he had to say no to every one of them. Because while he’s allowed to officiate all he wants, the solemnizing is what the state cares about, and that’s precisely what he’s excluded from doing.

What’s interesting is that even if a lower court dismisses CFI’s challege, it will ultimately end up in the same Court of Appeals as the Indiana case, where they had a unanimous victory two years ago. That’s not guaranteed this time, of course, but there’s reason to be optimistic.

(Image via Shutterstock)


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