Court Rules Against Atheist Group Seeking to Perform Marriage Ceremonies

A federal court has rejected a suit by a nationwide secular organization to allow their Indiana chapter to oversee marriage ceremonies in the state.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern District of Indiana ruled Friday that the Center for Inquiry Inc. could not perform solemnization services for marriages, writing that CFI "have not succeeded on the merits of their First Amendment or Equal Protection claim."

"Because Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate actual success on the merits in either of their stated causes of action, their remaining arguments are wholly unavailing," wrote Evans. "As a result, and pursuant to guiding case law, Plaintiffs' motion for permanent injunctive relief must be DENIED. Final judgment shall now issue in conjunction with this entry."

Paul Fidalgo, communications director for the Center for Inquiry, told The Christian Post that he was "obviously disappointed in this decision."

"To us, this matter is very clear: The law as it stands in Indiana gives a privilege to religious believers that it denies to nonbelievers," said Fidalgo.

"While those who belong to a faith tradition are accorded the accommodation of being allowed to have their unions made official by a representative of their particular worldview, nonbelievers must either settle for a bureaucratic process with an arbitrary government official."

According to Indiana Code 31-11-6, titled "Authority to Solemnize Marriages," those who can perform marriages include a "member of the clergy of a religious organization (even if the cleric does not perform religious functions for an individual congregation), such as a minister of the gospel, a priest, a bishop, an archbishop, or a rabbi."

The code section also specifically lists certain government officials as well, and specifically names the Friends Church, German Baptists, the Baha'i faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and an imam of a mosque as groups and individuals who can solemnize marriages.

CFI filed their suit in District Court earlier this year. Arguments were heard in the case in October.

Bryan Corbin, Public Information Officer for the Office of the Indiana Attorney General, provided The Christian Post with a statement by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

"We appreciate the Court's decision that upholds the constitutionality of the Legislature's very reasonable requirement for determining who can solemnize a marriage for the public purpose of filing a marriage license at the county clerk's office," said Zoeller.

"The Court found that couples who wish to marry without involving clergy have many alternatives for doing so. My office will continue to defend the statute if necessary."

Fidalgo of CFI told CP that his organization is planning to appeal the decision.

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