CFI Files Federal Suit in Illinois to Allow Secular Celebrants to Solemnize Marriages

For Immediate Release: July 22, 2016
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785


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.”

In 2014, the Center for Inquiry won a landmark victory when challenging a similar law in Indiana in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a watershed decision which is controlling precedent in Illinois. CFI had previously worked to achieve a legislative solution to secular Illinoisans’ exclusion from this privilege accorded to only to the religious. Though an amendment passed the state senate in May, no further action was taken.

“My sincere desire has been to serve nonreligious Illinoisans by offering my services as a secular celebrant,” said Galen Broaddus, a certified secular celebrant trained by CFI and plaintiff in the suit. “Unfortunately, my home state has denied me the ability to do so, and this is an inequity that needs to be corrected. It is my hope that the state of Illinois will do right by its citizens and the Constitution, and move quickly to make this right.”

“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 by Mr. Broaddus and the Center for Inquiry, who are represented by the firm of Schiff Hardin. The suit as filed is available here

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at