Wiccan Denied Clergy Status in Virginia

Wiccan Denied Clergy Status in Virginia June 29, 2012

[The following is a guest post from Literata Hurley. Literata is a Wiccan priestess, poet, and theaologian. Her work has appeared in several anthologies and  periodicals, including MandragoraQueen of the Sacred WayAnointed, Witches & Pagans, and CIRCLE Magazine. She blogs regularly for The Slacktiverse and her own site, Works of Literata. She is an ordained High Priestess of the Order of the White Moon, a women’s spirituality organization. In between leading Rose Coven, reading Tarot, and communing with nature, she is writing her Ph.D. dissertation in history and enjoys travel and spending time with her husband and cats.]

The Arlington County Court refused to grant me the right to perform marriages in Virginia, apparently on the grounds that my “congregation” does not own a building.

I presented my certificate of ordination and documentation of the 501c3 status of the Order of the White Moon, which ordained me. Since my Order is incorporated in California, the secretary asked me if I had a congregation in Virginia; I said yes. She asked me to list the address of the congregation, and I said that we don’t have a building. She asked, “So, what, you just meet in each other’s homes?” I said yes, we meet in each other’s homes, or out of doors (Wicca is, after all, an earth-based religion, but I thought that mentioning that would only be prejudicial to my situation).


She left and came back with the Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson said that they were not going to approve me. I asked if it was because we don’t have a building. He said, “Yes, you don’t have a building, and there were a few other things.” I asked him if he would give me a written list of the reasons I was being denied. He refused; he offered to show me the relevant section (Sec 20-23) of the Virginia Code. I assured him that I had read the Code, and asked again if he would give me more specific reasons I was being denied. He said that approving these applications was at his “discretion” and that he didn’t “feel” I met the qualifications, but he wouldn’t tell me how. He told me that I could apply to another court in another county but that he thought they would probably give me the same answer.

Has property ownership now become the measure of what constitutes a “real” religion in Virginia, or at least in Arlington County? Or is this another example of anti-Pagan discrimination at work?

Patchwork enforcement and a history of discrimination

Virginia is one of the few states in the US that requires clergy members to register with a circuit court in order to be able to perform valid marriages. The requirements in Sec 20-23 of the Code state that the minister must present proof of ordination and “of his being in regular communion” with the organization that ordained him.

These requirements are apparently interpreted in widely varying ways across various circuits in Virginia, as different courts’ websites list different types of documentation – or none – that may be required. For courts that openly state they require more than just proof of ordination, the way they ask for information gives tremendous privilege to traditionally-organized, i.e., Christian, groups. And if granting these applications really is up to the “discretion” of the Clerk of Court, there is wide scope for potential discrimination against minority religions with or without the fig leaf of requiring a “location” and other organizational trappings potentially beyond the reach of minority religious organizations.

This problem goes back more than a decade; in 1999, the ACLU helped another Wiccan priestess get her application in this situation approved.

I think it’s not unreasonable that I am concerned about what kind of documentation will satisfy the court. I serve multiple groups, one of which meets in a designated location, but since it is an open circle, the people who attend are mostly not members of my ordaining organization. If I provide documentation of this group meeting in a specific location, will the court then ask how many people attend, and how often we meet? What will they require to conclude that I am “really” a High Priestess in a “real” religion?

Why this matters

This is about more than performing weddings. This decision has a chilling effect on me trying to function as clergy in other ways; if the Court will not recognize me as legitimate clergy in this situation, will my right to confidentiality be protected? How can I assure people who come to me for counseling that their communications with me are protected by clergy privilege?

Literata drawing down.

And since this is one of the two major forms of government approval used by a wide range of institutions and organizations to determine whether someone is a “real” clergy member, it can impact my ability to reach out to those who have particular needs: people in hospitals, the military, and prisons all need clergy services, but those institutions are much more likely to deny me the ability to minister to the people involved if I can’t say that I’m approved by the State of Virginia to perform marriages.

And although I might have my application granted if I tried another court, that does nothing to resolve the doubt cast on my status by the court with jurisdiction over where I live and do most of my ministry. If another court approved me, it would only serve to highlight the irregular and potentially biased variations in granting recognition across jurisdictions.

What you can do

I currently plan to gather additional supporting documentation and reapply, and if I am denied again, to ask whether I can appeal to a judge of the court. I am also currently seeking advice from the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Lady Liberty League. Here’s what you can do to help:

First, get the word out. The more Pagans pull together, the better our chances of being recognized as “legitimate” in these kinds of situations.

If you are a Pagan clergyperson in Virginia and you have applied to perform marriages, please write to me at literatahurley@gmail.com. If you were approved, I’d like to know when you were approved, in what court, with what paperwork, and what questions they asked, both written and verbal. People who have been declined, please tell me that too. The more information I have for comparison the better.

I would also like to be able to present letters of support from other Pagan clergy and potentially from Pagan organizations that ordain people, especially ones that ordain people all over the country. If you’re interested, please contact me. And if you have other ideas about how to help, please speak up!

People who aren’t in Virginia, please provide spiritual and magical support. Pray and send energy that I am able to gather the evidence I need and make a convincing argument, that the court will grant my new application swiftly, and that I may stay positive and be patient throughout this whole process.

I sincerely hope that together we can ensure this is the last time a Pagan in Virginia has her credentials questioned and her status as clergy denied.

[This post was republished, with permission, from Literata’s blog. Please follow it for further updates and commentary from Literata on this matter. The Wild Hunt will be keeping in close contact with Literata on this issue, and will post updates as warranted.]

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129 responses to “Wiccan Denied Clergy Status in Virginia”

  1. I would be surprised if they turned down an christian preacher of a home church. I see no difference other than the religion. I wonder if there is any way to see who this Clerk of Courts has approved. What are Virginia’s public record request laws like?

  2. This is quite disgusting. 

    The fact that he wouldn’t give you any other reason is just ridiculous and honestly, I’d have lost my head at that point. 

  3. This piece is also crossposted at  The Slacktiverse. Some of the additional links/information we included underline how “tied to traditional Protestant denominations” the questions asked off applicants are. For example:

    Although these forms sometimes refer vaguely to a “person of authority” all of the named roles (deacons, elders, pastors, trustees or church clerks) are associated with mainline Protestant churches and church organizations. Other forms ask for copies of charters, bylaws and outlines of organizational structures.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with you Ms. Hurley. We appear to be at a point in time in this country where property owners have more rights than non-property owners. This whole situation reeks of hypocrisy.

    I honestly hope that things eventually become better for you and the sisters of your order. Best wishes.

  5. Literata, proceed directly to the ACLU and ask them for representation in the lawsuit you are going to file.  It appears to me that the Clerk of Court has abused his discretion.  Unfortunately, obtaining equality under the law is, more often than not, a thing that must be fought for in court.  There are people of other religions who do not have buildings and who meet in the homes of their members.  I recall such a case while researching PAGANS AND THE LAW:  it involved a group of Jewish men who met in someone’s garage.  

  6.  Thanks, mmy, for providing those examples. This isn’t an isolated problem; it really needs to be changed.

  7. Since when is building required for a wedding?  Judges marry people in their office or at some other location.  I know that our local conservatory is used regularly for weddings.  The building requirement is bogus. 

  8. My solution to the very same problem: Become a Notary. Notaries can perform marriages, and no one asks what faith they are. Some states also have a “marriage commissioner,” also not “clergy.”

  9. Not surprised, this is the same State that has denied there are any native American Indians alive there. A state that has refused to even hold documentation that showed any native Americans lived there even whilst Federal authorities were interviewing them at the time and observing their communicates for Federal records, that they should also be biased against other minority groups should not come as a surprise to anyone 🙁 Fight them in court!

  10. then we need to gather funds and maybe buy an old house  and renonvate it into a  Temple   put in Gardens and  the kitchen area  is the spell and Herb  crafting the living room fill it up with Books  that is the libary    the Bedrooms can be for meditation 
    a beautiful Garden with  outdoor area for people to sit and enjoy nature 

  11. Might I suggest asking some of your congregation (a sizeable number) to come to the clerks office WITH you as “proof” of same? He might have a much harder time denying your rights to you in the physical presence of so many witnesses/proofs. Heh heh.

  12. Wouldn’t that put her home at risk for the Zoneing board? I remember in my hometown that there were issues with Christian home churches but I don’t recall the outcome.

  13. Arlington County is famous for doing this. Firefly clergy were denied a few years ago too by them. Now we go with Alexandria by default. I think its time for a protest.

  14. I hope you plan to sue the state. It’s pure anti-Pagan hate. Look up the VA laws, I am certain you will find no law predating this ruling that says a member of clergy has to have a building in order to be considered legal clergy and perform the services of clergy. If anything, revert back to the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What if your religion does not require a physical building? They are prohibiting the free exercise of your religion. What they have done is illegal.

  15. The “heart of the matter” aside, and speaking purely practically, rent a small room from a community center and get permission to use their address. 20$ a month goes a long ways…

    In addition, laws have a codification standard. Reminding the clerk of this may go a long ways – people are more then happy to take advantage of people who they think don’t know the law, and showing that you do know the law can go a long ways to beating down stupidity.

    It may also be worth checking to see if any Christian ministers are keeping their church at home. If so, you can raise the issue of religious discrimination directly with the clerk. 

    Unfortunately, Virginia in this case has a “may issue” policy when it comes to the ability to bind in matrimony.  You specifically need to show religious discrimination, not just that the clerk denied you because he didn’t like you.

  16. One of my best friends has a home church and can marry, bury and the rest.  His church is his home.  This was Washington.  I can’t believe you were turned down.  Much luck go with you!

  17. It looks to me as if there’s a whole lot of something rotten in Denmark. Falling back on “discretion” and then refusing to provide actual reasons is what someone does when they know themselves that their own reasons are hinky, and they want to avoid confrontation.

  18. The issue is not where the wedding is to be held.  It’s to do with where your church is located.  Many court clerks in Virginia require your church have an address in their jurisdiction and that the location be zoned appropriately.

  19. I’m a Notary in Virginia and Notaries are NOT allowed to perform weddings simply by being a Notary.  However a person can register to perform a non-religious wedding as long as they can provide a $500 bond to the state which is reimbursed after the ceremony is completed.

  20. When we were trying to register to perform weddings after receiving our ordination from Circle Sanctuary, we found that many court clerks would check the address to ensure it’s in a location zoned for a church.  In our case, being in a townhouse our city does not allow churches in communities zoned as ours is.  So, we could not use our home address.

  21. this is further proof, that the main goal of pagans in America for the next hundred years is going to be killing the negative stereotypes, and biases that have been ingrained in our society for the last couple centuries. and even if you are not Wiccan, all you have to do is watch the news or read the paper to see, that separation of church and state has a long way to go.  and now court clerks can deny us right based on their own personal views (moral, or religious id venture to guess)…..its discouraging…..but the fight is worth it for recognition. we ARE a “REAL” religion. and we are not afraid to prove it.
    my energy is with you and as it is with all others struggling to be treated fairy in our bigoted country.

  22.  Nevada has the same requirements; However, I suspect this has to do more to do with protecting the wedding chapel industry rather than religious discrimination.

    The only reason why I was able to obtain mine was because I was a member of the local UU and sat on the Worship Associate committee. 

    The Humanist Association and the ACLU are suing the state; so you may want to do some research into that case and contact your local chapter of the ACLU

    Good luck to you!

  23. Dear all I noticed the work an the annointed. I am one of the crtedited contributors to that book, im the gentleman whom translated and sent off the ancient Sumerian rituals and hymms.  If you think as a polytheist that you encounter discrimination then try doing the same in the UK? My ancient sumerian religion is older than 99.99999 of other religions out there but the UK refuses to recognise it!
    christopher cressey

  24. Wow! If u deny someone give them documentation why. Ure asking for a lawsuit. This Guy sounds like he wa s lookìng for a reason to say no. It makes me wonder if it wasn’t because he has a thing against wiccans in general and if that’s the case he shouldn’t have a job. It’s called freedom of religion. It’s sad that at times we’re still treated this way.

  25. Ditto. One of my coworkers had a church running out of her house until they got the money for a building. Nobody said they weren’t a real church.

  26. I am a High Priesteas with the Wiccan Family Teme in NYC. When I was ordaines 2 years ago, several of us wer put through the wringer to obtain our clergy status as well, but we eventually able to after my High Priestess went down herself to talk with the head clerk. Also the person who went down the day before I did was threatened with the revoking of her license. Another person had to go down 9 times before she was able to obtain it. Eventually the person who was causin us all this hassle was actually fired for blocking our clergy status. All 5 of us eventually received it.

  27. I do remember being asked the same question here in Maine when I inquired about the requirements of clergy status. I needed to list a location of the congregation and there was a minimum number of members required. I think this could have been easily avoided if she just handed them her home address, plain and simple. They just want an address to list with the paperwork so they have a record of where you are based out of. Priest who have churches don’t always perform in their churches. They travel for funerals, weddings and private consultations. Is it so bad for her to just use her home address as her “church” location? No. As for his “Other reasons”, only them two even know if that part of the conversation took place and if so, may have never took place if she just gave the man the info he needed to fill out on the form. It’s possible she was being difficult with him and he didn’t want to start a fight by just saying “other things”, we don’t know.

  28. Just what I’ve been saying on this matter. They want an address for the paperwork, that’s all. I feel this woman could have avoided this by just giving the man her address instead of fighting him on it and blew this out of proportion.

  29. Well that is unfortunate but you can petition the zoning board to allow you to modify the zone code. And that code wasn’t put there for religious exemption.

  30. There are congregations of several denominations of Judaism that meet regularly near where I live in California but are not large enough to be able to afford to rent or buy a building to meet in full time (or to pay a full time rabbi or cantor). These congregations rent meeting space in Protestant churches by the day or the hour. One of these congregations regularly rents from several different churches, depending on their facility needs for a particular occasion.

    This is not unusual and I would bet that if asked, the pastors of those churches would vouch for these Jewish congregations’ bona fides. Not that this would be likely to happen, even in less liberal parts of the country, because rabbis don’t make themselves and most Jewish denominations have credential-issuing organizations or some other established system to vouch for their legitimacy.

    I suggest that Literata and any other Wiccan priest or priestess in a similar situation do a web search for Jewish congregations in his or her neighborhood that are meeting in rented spaces
    and use them as comparative examples that a congregation doesn’t necessarily have one regular meeting place.

    Which leads to a more general point that bears repeating, since for some reason the Pagan and Wiccan communities in America aren’t generally aware of it even after half a century of organizing. Whenever and wherever you run into an institution or a law that privileges Protestant Christianity over other religions, the Jews have been there before you. American Judaism has been working for equal rights with Christianity for more than a century. Jews understand the First Amendment and Jewish organizations have a lot of institutional memory about how to secure the rights it guarantees. Don’t reinvent the wheel; if you are being forced to conform to a Protestant  model, ask Jewish organizations for advice and help.

  31.  But as I pointed out, becoming authorized solely to perform weddings by another means doesn’t get me other privileges of clergy.

  32.  Thanks, Iris. I appreciate your support. I’m going to have to think seriously about whether I want to go to another jurisdiction. I understand your concerns, but I don’t think he’s entirely within his rights. If these rules or his prejudice are being applied in a discriminatory fashion, that may need to be challenged in order to strengthen the legal status of the community.

  33.  This is dumb! The idea that owning property is what
    defines a real religion is totally bizarre. Owning property only
    demonstrates that you believe that property can be owned, and I’m not
    aware of any religion that has that as a central tenet.

    Much love to you Literata!

  34. Talk to some Quakers in the state and do as they do. Cite your compliance with their already approved procedure point for point. You might consider renting space at an Eagle or Moose Lodge and using their address.

  35.  Yes, and the way I understood it, being classified as clergy is the point. Officially recognized clergy have a whole host of privileges according to law in the US as a whole, as well as in various parts of the country and abroad. You name some of them in your article, e.g ministering to people in prison.

    In a way this is similar to marriage equality. Allowing same sex couples to officially get married bestows the full legal package on them locally, regionally, nationally and internationally: taxes, hospital visitation rights, inheritance, custody, trust funds, military spouse benefits and on and on and on. That’s the magic of the word “marriage”. “Domestic partnerships” will always be a second rate imitation. 

    Encouraging Literata, who has been denied clergy status, to become a notary so she can perform a subset of official clergy functions is derailing.

  36. The difficulty we’ve found with Virginia is that the right to approve registration for clergy to perform religious weddings is delegated to the Circuit Court Clerks.  However, they also receive specific direction from the state’s Attorney General.  As we should all be aware, this is the same AG who tried to have the funding pulled from a state university professor whose finding indicated that people are contributing to global warming and the first to file lawsuit against the US to claim the health care bill recently upheld by the SCOTUS was unconstituntional.
    He has also sent specific direction to the clerks listing specific online ordinations as being invalid (the Prince William County Clerk’s office gave us a copy of the letter).
    Much has to do with how the clerk interprets the requirement for regular communion with the congregation and the belief that foundation of the term “church” starts with having a building dedicated to that purpose.
    This is not as much discrimination toward Wicca as it is for Pagans and other minority religions who do not meet and celebrate in the same manner as the majority religions (big 3) do.
    We ran in to other roadblocks when we tried to get registered in Prince William County with the location we work out of not being zoned for churches, that our ordination was from a church based out of state, and that the Circle Sanctuary web site was not layed out like other church web sites.
    After looking at the requirements listed for other local circuit courts, we found that Arlington and Fairfax are even more restrictive.  It’s not enough to be familiar with the Virginia Code but one must also visit the circuit court’s site to see how the particular clerk interprets the guideance.
    The guidelines from the state are not that restrictive.  It’s really the clerks and the direction they receive from the Attorney General.
    The Attorney General is an elected official.  We, the people, have the power to put in place somebody who would be more interested in equality come election day.

  37. Property owners have always had more rights in this country. The original idea for eligible voters was to limit it to property owners.

  38. Hmmm. The Amish meet in their homes; they have no churches per se; would their bishops be denied clergy status? I think not. I will spread the word.

  39. I think I see at least part of the issue (I’ve helped several
    Pagan ministers get registered here in VA) – according to their website, your ordaining
    entity is a school, not a church. Also, their definition of “Congregation”
    implies a set group of people. I had a backup of notarized statements of people
    who affirmed they were part of my Congregation.

    I also did give a physical location – my home address (where my “office” is).


    Honestly, I’ve got multiple ordinations and the ones I’ve found
    work the best are the ones from the “Interfaith” churches – Seven Planes,
    Spiritual Humanism.


    I can understand the principle of the wanting the pagan ordination
    to be the one used to register, but a more “neutral” one usually works better
    in the Bible belt.

    Rev. Rhiannon Melanson
    Pastor – Tidewater Spiritual Congregation, Norfolk VA
    Bishop – Church of Seven Planes

  40. Perhaps you have to cover up child molestation to be considered a mainstream religion these days.

  41. Thank goodness Kansas and Missouri don’t require certification by a court to marry someone.

  42.  I don’t believe that she “blew this out of proportion” at all… the clerk of court did when he flatly refused to give her all of the reasons that she could not have the license, because he obviously didn’t WANT to give her the license! Had she been of any kind of Christian affiliation, it wouldn’t even have been an issue and I think we all know it.

  43. On the note of marriage equality, something else has me concerned, here. The fact that one seems to need a church or a religious following to perform a legal act is unsettling. Sure, as others mentioned, you can apply to hold a nonreligious marriage ceremony. But that right depends on whether you have a few hundred bucks to set aside, then you have to make the deposit again the next time you want to hold a ceremony. At least that’s what I’m understanding from the posts above. I’m certainly no expert, so please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. If I have it right, though, that hardly seems fair or equal.

    I think religious wedding ceremonies can be beautiful, and marriage can absolutely be a spiritual experience. But when legal rights are involved, I really don’t think any religion should be involved in the process for reasons exactly like those mentioned in this blog post. Separation of church and state should exist to prevent discrimination in legal matters. Let the state or the feds handle the legal application. Then leave the religious to do things as they’d like in their own personal ceremonies.

    Once legally married, all legal and medical rights should follow. If you want your minister to visit you in the hospital, the government should have no say in whether that minister is legitimate. What’s important is that you have the right to request that person’s presence.

    This is just my two cents, of course, and I absolutely mean no offense. As I said before, please correct me if I’ve mininterpreted anything. I value the input of everyone here. I read this blog quite often, and I’m always pleased and interested in the lively discussion. It’s great that we have a place where such dialogue can happen

    This post in particular is written quite well and raises some important questions. To the author, I wish you the best of luck, and please keep us updated as things proceed. If religion and legal matters do have to be entangled, the battle you’re fighting is an important one.

  44. http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_rel.htm/

    “The District Court of Virginia declared in 1985 (Dettmer v Landon, 617 F Suup 592 [E. Dst. Va.]) that Wicca is “clearly a religion for First Amendment purposes….Members of the Church sincerely adhere to a fairly complex set of doctrines relating to the spiritual aspect of their lives, and in doing so they have ‘ultimate concerns’ in much the same way as followers of more accepted religions. Their ceremonies and leadership structure, their rather elaborate set of articulated doctrine, their belief in the concept of another world, and their broad concern for improving the quality of life for others gives them at least some facial similarity to other more widely recognized religions.” 1 This was a landmark case. “http://www.religioustolerance.org/witchcr6.htm This link deals with the time frame that Wicca became recognized as a valid religion by the Armed Forces.

  45. Ok, first thing, you need to have a lawyer look at all the relevant documents and the case law.  Assuming you have a case, first you must seek injunctive relief to be able to perform the wedding, and all weddings thereafter.  Second, you must find a reason to sue the clerk for whatever this abuse would come under.  If his house becomes your church building, other clerks will think twice about pulling a similar stunt.

  46. Suggest that you contact Moonfire cuups http://www.moonfireuuca.org/.  They are a UU pagan group in Arlington County.  UU’s have a long history of defending religious freedom and many UU churches in Northern Va have either a cuups chapter or a less visible pagan group.  Help may be found as a social justice issue.

  47. I’ve summarized the relevant Virginia law and discussed ways in which Lirerata’s case may be distinguished over at my blog:  http://hecatedemeter.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/my-thoughts-on-arlington-countys-denial-of-marriage-authority-to-a-wiccan/

  48. Unfortunately, even if she does that, it will not resolve the “other things” that he refused to disclose. He told her he “didn’t fee” she met the qualifications but refused to specify which qualifications, not having a building address wasn’t the reason it was an excuse. If she had a building, he would still have had other excuses.

  49. As a Christian clergy I am appalled at this treatment. You are as legitimate as any Christian/Jewish/Muslim clergy. Many of my Christian clergy friends would support you as well. You may have allies in unexpected places! Best to you.

  50. I wish you the best of luck with this. Definitely religious discrimination happening here. You fully deserve the right to be recognized as a legitimate minister, which you are. I am a Christian but think it is ridiculous that you should not be given the same rights as any Pastor, Bishop, Imam, or Rabbi.

  51. A a female clergy person from VA (but not living there), I had to go through the same stuff to perform my cousin’s wedding there. I’m so sad that my home state is putting you through this – and you gave even more reasons than those that came to my mind. I think, while you (we – I’d love to sign my name in your support), try to get this moved through, we should also move to change the language of all of their forms/documents. I remember when I received my form to fill out for VA and it was all in male language. Um…

  52. My Dad is a retired christian minister and was asked to do a wedding for my Aunt in Virginia.  Now, I know he had to do some sort of speical registration thing in Virginia to e able to do it legally, but since he was retired he had no active church location to point too.  They didn’t deny him.  So, in a way that may help as a case to point to, someone that hasn’t a building to point to.  He did however, still have the correct status in his denomination to do weddings.   

  53. My prayers and blessings go out to you in this time of turmoil. Don’t let them push you around. Best of luck in your search

  54. I had my support for you. I am Wiccan but in my life I have counted friends from many different faiths. I think your community will be richer if you and others are seen as part of the community and not something to be feared! Much love to you!

  55. Change.org is a great place to bring up a topic such as this. You can create a petition for Americans to sign. Blessed Be!

  56. Greetings, Literata!

    Regarding the address question, I did some digging on Arlington’s zoning site. It seems you can apply for a home occupation permit for free online.  “Office of an ordained minister of religion” is listed as one of the permitted home occupations. That should allow you to list your home address without worrying about running afoul of zoning laws.

    With that permit, plus the other 2 items you submitted, there doesn’t seem to be any legal justification for the clerk to deny your application.

    In addition to the groups you’ve already contacted, I would suggest reaching out to two more. COG most likely has direct experience in getting recognition in Virginia. You also have a Human Rights Commission in Arlington! This is a great resource.

    If it’s anything like ours here in California (and it seems to be), it’s members are likely composed of various minority religion clergy. You should try getting involved and start attending their public meetings regardless. They also seem to be recruiting new commissioners (hint, hint). If you’re not making any headway with the clerk, filing a formal complaint to the Commission will likely resolve the issue without requiring a lawsuit. Believe me, that clerk is not going to want to get hauled in front of a pubic hearing!

  57. The biggest problem is in Virginia we have the ‘powerful’ word “MAY” attached to so many things. That one word places the decision soley in the hands of the person issuing..whatever.  Trying to meet their requirements becomes an exercise in futility. It all comes down to their personal issues, which may change each time you fulfill another. Seek your clergy status in another jurisdiction. Then research, and deal with the issue just faced. (And the good part is…eventually the person is replaced through election.)

  58. I got legally married in front of a Cumberland Farms convenience store (because our JP was licensed in one state, while our ceremony was in the next one over, but just across the border).

  59. Sue.  You will win.

    I realize, this doesn’t help the couple you’re supposed to marry… but eventually, you’ll gain rights for yourself and other Pagans.

    Here in MI, you’re required an address and a congregation, but your address can be your home.  This is to prevent religious fraud, ie., someone pretending to be a church to scam money.

    Further, in many states, a person only has to have clergy status in
    order to sign a marriage license… your “congregation” address can be
    your home address.  Please check out the exact requirements needed to “solemnize a marriage”.

    Many people meet in their homes for worship, including Sikhs, Amish, Pagans and Christian study groups.  It is perfectly legal under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Incarcerated Persons Act.  Familiarize yourself with that act, and cases that have set precedents.

    In 2005 -6, we won the right to have gatherings on our own land in our township, although Xian neighbors objected.  We have the right to freedom of assembly under the  First Amendment, along with the right to freedom of religion.  RLUIPA is an act which emphasizes that right.  It establishes that people can meet for religious worship on their own land, so long as all laws are obeyed.

    What this administrator is doing is bogus.  Sue.  You will win.


  60.  So we Pagans need to organize and WRITE charters, bylaws, and organizational structure.  Not hard.  If my uneducated redneck self can do it, so can the rest of yous.

  61.  Under which section are Wiccans covered in the New York City code for clergy?  I was browsing it yesterday and the provisions were ALL for Christian churches. 

  62. We had an experience like this in Indianapolis with a Priestess.  The clerk wouldn’t accept her as a clergy, but after a few letters we wrote to the clerk’s supervisor within a couple weeks she was approved.  I’m sorry your clerk’s boss wasn’t as smart.  We support you, Literata! 

  63. I have an idea. Does your phone havea record ap? Get one. If the clerk comes back with another denial hold your phone up to record the reasons. Tell them it is for lawyer – doesnt matter if you have one or not – lets see if the clerk backs down or gives actual reasonable reasons for denial.
    Or just show up with a friend at your shoulder who identified themself as a lawyer, see what happens. Good luck.

  64. One of the biggest problems I see here – the discrimination of this instance aside for a moment – is that people belonging to a majority religion (most likely) are using their own traditions as the yardstick of “what constitutes a ‘real’ religion.” The Constitution makes no distinction as to *what* a religion is, or what criteria a religion must have to be considered a “real” religion. In fact, the 1st Amendment would clearly seem to forbid the creation/use of such criteria.

    We shouldn’t have to make our religions look like theirs to get the rights we should (and legally do) already possess. Some Pagan religions are bending over backwards to conform to Abrahamic religious structures, and if that’s what they want to do, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t *have* to. The government should not be in the business of defining religion. (They shouldn’t be in the business of legislating it either, but that’s a rant for another day…)

    The Constitution doesn’t exist to *give* us rights, it’s there to spell out the rights that our Founders believed we already possessed by mere virtue of being alive in a so-called enlightened age. My religion is no less a religion for being centered around my oikos-based shrine rather than a large building with stained glass windows.

    IMHO it’s not just the discrimination/misinformation about our religions we must fight, it is also the idea that our religions have to follow the mold of theirs in order to be “valid religions.”

  65.  By that token, NO religion should be able to have the power/ability to sanction legal weddings.

  66.  My husband knows personally the Clerk of the Court in Fairfax (for years).  The position is for eight years at time, and is generally uncontested.  They have the longest term of office of any elected official.  The Clerk for Fairfax has served for 16 years, and is a dyed-in the wool Republican.  So when local elections come up, review all the candidates.

  67. David, I’d v much like to see the AG’s letter.  If you have it, could you please email it to me at hecated emetersd attera thotm aildotc om?

    Many thanks!

  68. Thanks again everybody for the continuing support. I’m definitely doing more research and will look into that zoning thing you suggest, Shannon. And I agree, Khryseis, that the root problem here is using Christianity, and specifically mainline Protestant Christianity as it currently exists, as the yardstick for “real” religions. This difference might be worth pushing back on because it has the potential to affect many minority religious groups as well.

  69.  Sorry, but that information is incorrect.  RLUIPA does not have precedent in municipalities which specific zoning laws for churches.  Also, she is NOT being disallowed from practicing her religion; ONLY her ability to marry.  Her best plan of action at this moment is for her to consult attorneys with the ACLU and AU (which she has done) to see what they recommend.

  70.  That is curious; I wonder if that would work for Arlington county.  Now, it will depend on whether her address is in a zone that would allow that special use permit.  Many are not based on whether or not the home is in a Mixed Use Zone, is detached, in a HOA, etc. 

  71.   They should have just asked for your home address & left it at that.  They do need some place where they can contact you at; where you receive mail basically.   I’m more concerned with “there are a few other things” part of the Clerk’s denial. 

     Your Coven & other Arlington County Pagans might want to keep this in mind come the next election. “Paul Ferguson was ~elected~ to serve as Clerk of the Circuit Court”

  72. Just a little technical thing – but the headline is not entirely accurate.  She was not denied “clergy status”.  Simply denied the ability to perform religious marriages by a Clerk of one of the Circuit Courts.

    The state does not grant clergy status for anybody – religious organizations do through ordination.  The only role the state has taken on is in granting permission to perform religious marriages.
    To imply that the state grants clergy status is to assume the state has the ability to ordain. I’ve heard too many Pagans associating getting registered to perform religious marriages with being ordained by the state.  
    I’m not supporting the Clerk’s decision but we need to focus on the actual wrong that was done.  There needs to be a more clear & transparent definition on the requirements to perform religious marriages in Virginia.  If it is going to be up to the individual circuit court clerks, they need to provide more info on what they view as a requirement.
    The entirety of Virginia Code 20-23 that defines the State’s requirement to perform religious marriages:

    § 20-23. Order authorizing ministers to perform ceremony.When a minister of any religious denomination shall produce before the circuit court of any county or city in this Commonwealth, or before the judge of such court or before the clerk of such court at any time, proof of his ordination and of his being in regular communion with the religious society of which he is a reputed member, or proof that he holds a local minister’s license and is serving as a regularly appointed pastor in his denomination, such court, or the judge thereof, or the clerk of such court at any time, may make an order authorizing such minister to celebrate the rites of matrimony in this Commonwealth. Any order made under this section may be rescinded at any time by the court or by the judge thereof.Below is the portion of the State Code regarding others who are not ministers who wish to perform a marriage:§ 20-25. Persons other than ministers who may perform rites.Any circuit court judge may issue an order authorizing one or more persons, resident in the circuit in which the judge sits, to celebrate the rites of marriage in the Commonwealth. Any person so authorized shall, before acting, enter into bond in the penalty of $500, with or without surety, as the court may direct. Any order made under this section may be rescinded at any time.Any judge or justice of a court of record, any judge of a district court or any retired judge or justice of the Commonwealth or any active, senior or retired federal judge or justice who is a resident of the Commonwealth may celebrate the rites of marriage anywhere in the Commonwealth without the necessity of bond or order of authorization.

  73. David, I understand where you’re coming from, but I continue to be concerned that if the state, or part of the state, won’t recognize me as clergy for one purpose, they won’t recognize me as clergy for other purposes, such as confidentiality rights. Plus, whether it’s right or not, a lot of institutions will use this particular state approval as proxy for “real” clergy. If a hospital asks me if I’m recognized by the state as a way to decide whether or not to let me help people in the hospital, then the state’s decision has a lot more effect than just signing marriage licenses,

  74. Or let me put it this way: when the government decides that some ordinations are valid and others are not – which is what’s happening here – then the government is playing a role in determining clergy status for official purposes, which also affects non-official treatment of clergy. Yes, we absolutely need more uniform, transparent, and nondiscriminatory criteria for this in Virginia. And we need that for more reasons than just marriages.

  75. What Virginia needs, in short, is the rule of law rather than what we have here with this “discretion” — what quaintly used to be called the rule of men.

  76. They don’t turn us down, even though we don’t have clergy, even though we don’t always have meeting houses. Clerks of the Meeting can sign the marriage license, even in Virginia. 

    I can’t think of any way that this case ISN’T religious discrimination. 

  77. Yes, RLUIPA does have precedent, even in jurisdictions with zoning for churches… doesn’t preclude meeting for religious purposes in homes, or using a private residence as an address for your congregation. 

    If she’s not being allowed to perform a wedding, then she’s not being allowed to practice her religion.

    Consulting with attorneys is great.  Yet familiarizing yourself with the letter of the law is a good idea, too… there will come a time when your attorney will turn to you and expect you to make a decision.

  78.  “the government is playing a role in determining clergy status for official purposes”
    That doesn’t sound very ‘separation of church and state’ to me…

  79. As a High Priestess and an Ordained Reverend and founder of the Temple of Diana, Inc in Mass we looked into the procedure and rules according to each state in order to Ordain our members and those who have the proper training to become legal to marry and I came up a list of the requirements for all states in the U.S., the Virgin Islands.

    I looked at it in curosity of this article and Virginia has a more unclear set of guidelines for who can and cannot become Ordained.

    Here is what it said about Virginia and then it leads you over to the Court page.


    The procedure in Virginia is less well defined. According to the official in
    Arlington County, you bring (in person) your “certificate of ordination”, a
    photo ID, and $16 the Clerk’s office of any Circuit Court. Then the clerk will
    ask you “some questions” about things like whether or not you have a
    congregation in Virginia, how many members, and whether your group is recognized
    as a religious group by the IRS. Then either the clerk will register you or buck
    the problem up to a judge. Nonresidents are eligible.

    VA-resident non-clergy can sign up for a one-time permit to celebrate a
    wedding. Apply in person at the Clerk’s office of any Circuit Court.

  80. The core intent of that is probably to protect people against scam artists. Possibly the basis of the “feels wrong” reaction of the clerk.

  81.  Regardless of intent, it is still government interference of religion. (Which is possibly the opposite to what that particular amendment was thinking of, but still…)

  82. The early Christians met in each others’ homes, too — since all current Christian denominations claim to come from them, maybe all current Christian denominations are illegal in Virginia.
    Certainly, Jesus and the apostles would be — here’s how he described his own organizational set-up: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” — Luke 9:58

  83.  I am a Virginia resident and ordained Priest who attained status as Religious Marriage Celebrant in 1998, through the same Circuit Court Judge who came acroppers with Rosemary Kooiman and the ACLU.  I had no problem and no questions asked when I went to the County Clerk’s office and asked to look through the previous applications.  And the decision is not up to the Clerk of Courts — it is determined by the Circuit Court Judge.

  84.  Each state has different requirements as to who can and cannot legalize a marriage.  If you want to do weddings, first find out the laws of your state — and preferably of the states bordering nearby.

  85.  You get the bond back when you turn in the paperwork.  But you have to be a resident of the County to register this way — specifying which couple is to be married on which day.  So there is always this option for a couple in Virginia.

  86.  Quakers have clergy, just no laity.  Quakers do have formal meeting places, usually.  Virginia has a separate section in the law for Quakers and Quaker-like groups that do not set clergy apart from laity.  They are allowed to name two Religious Marriage Celebrants per Meeting to be responsible for the Virginia paperwork (which is really all the Commonwealth is worried about — getting the signed license back).

  87.  See my reply above — Virginia has a separate section of law on how Quaker marriages are done.

  88.  The Judge, not the Clerk, is the final decisionmaker in Virginia.  I became a Religious Marriage Celebrant in Fairfax County in 1998.

  89. Ugh. I feel very fortunate to live in Tennessee, where the law is a bit loose and floppy concerning who is considered to be clergy.  My heart goes out to you and the Pagans of Virginia in rectifying this because, as they say in the vernacular of my people, that ain’t right.

    Apollo the Litigator and Athena the Judge be with you.

  90. All energies for a good outcome are sent, and will continue until this unacceptable discrimination issue is resolved, not only for you, but for all of who are ordained pagan clergy. Namaste.

  91. Literata, Where you are is basically the bible belt so there is a lot of anti-pagan ideals there which is a clear reason why you were denied and they just found a loop hole to give you a legitimate reason. I will send positive thoughts your way and hope for the best. I may have some contacts that would be able to help you out. I think realistically you would have less issues getting approved in another court such as Washington D.C. or Virginia Beach where there is a more variety of individuals. Good luck

  92. Universal Life Church.  I realize online ordination may seem hokey, but to those of us who wish to become ordained this can be an alternative.  I was married by a friend who was ordained by this same church.  Her Signature was on my marriage license.  It was never questioned when I filed.  It was legal in the State of California, because when I got divorced I certainly had to go through traditional divorce proceedings….instead of the accustomed Pagan proceeding.  At any rate, through Universal Life, I can legally Marry, Bury and Baptise.  It might be an alternative in other states as well.

  93. If you have your charter in VA for your local “church” then it has to have an address. It doesn’t matter where all you meet – there IS a “church” address and that is ALL that you have to provide them, building or not. The IRS approved our 501c3 without us having a building but with my address. They also approved it as a Pagan church instead of a Wiccan Church as all of the others are. (Even if the people were not Wiccan they had to portray themselves as such.) If you don’t have your Non-Profit Incorporation in VA – Get it. You need 3 Co-Founders. The California Church will be the Mother Church. They have to have a group 501c3 for you to use it just like the ATC. Once you have all of this they cannot deny you. You might even contact the ATC for advise and check their website to see if they have an ATC affiliate church their. If they do talk to them about how they got it done. I am in TN but some parts of the laws are the same everywhere because it falls under the Federal (IRS). I hope some of this may help. Blessed Be!

  94. My advice would be to mention that in the Bible, God states that the church is “anywhere two or more people meet in his name,” which means means that technically, Christians don’t need a building to obtain clergy status.  ACLU will hopefully help out.

  95. When I ran into this problem, I ordained with the ULC, which is recognized in all 50 states (they have the court rulings to prove it.) I just say we are a “living room church” and use my home address. Every Pagan clergy I personally know is registered with the ULC. When I had the problem you are describing, I was in the Army at the time and I went to the Chaplin. He recommended the ULC to me (I was in Georgia at the time.) No problems since.

    In the places where I have experienced discrimination, I first seek to educate the public by giving free lectures, starting at a local collage. I used to have this problem in a very Conservative and rural area of Calif. I couldn’t walk down the street without being assaulted for wearing my Pentacle. I gave just a few lectures and I was interviewed on the local news. After that, no problems at all! The lectures inspired the younger generation attending, and parents saw that I was not “weird” and I ended up leading a “family coven”  instead. It has been a Blessing! 🙂

    Best of luck to you in your endeavors!

  96. I am well aware of all the ignorance,prejudice,hate,etc. in the world,and it is all just senseless.  However,as bad as individuals are singled out, I believe the above incident is even more sad.  Spirituality,in any form is a right and need for all of our growth. For these people to hinder that,must be the worst possible form of sabbotage I can possibly imagine. Terry Elliott.

  97. I was ordained in Prince William County (Manassas) in aproximately 2001.  The Church of Light, by Arlene of the now defunct Woman’s Wish.  I am not licensed to perform marriages, as that is a completely separate process.  Arlene provided us with the documentation of the Church Bylaws, the way to become a clergy member and a mission statement so that we could apply to be a marriage celebrant if we so desired.  Many of the other ordainees (I know, not a word) did go on to obtain their celebrant licenses without any difficulty that I’m aware of.  So it is -not- all of Virginia that has a problem with Pagan clergy members.

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