Illinois and Wisconsin Urged to Allow Secular Celebrants to Solemnize Marriages

For Immediate Release: October 21, 2014
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785


Following Major Federal Court Victory in Indiana, Center for Inquiry Confident if Litigation Becomes Necessary

Secularism advocacy group the Center for Inquiry (CFI) is urging the governors of Illinois and Wisconsin to ensure that Secular Celebrants may legally solemnize marriages in their states, now that a federal court’s ruling in favor of these nonreligious officiants in Indiana has been finalized. Current Illinois and Wisconsin law do not grant this authority to Secular Celebrants, and CFI says it will pursue litigation in the case of inaction by either state.

In July of this year, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Center for Inquiry, declaring Indiana’s refusal to allow CFI-trained Secular Celebrants to solemnize marriages “irrational.” The state then had 90 days to appeal the ruling, and, failing to do so, the decision was made final. (Read the decision here.)

In a letter to Governors Pat Quinn of Illinois and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, CFI Legal Director Nicholas Little asked them to work alongside CFI to ensure their state laws reflect the ruling of the Seventh Circuit, and that secular couples can choose a celebrant that reflects their values on their wedding day. Little expressed full confidence that legal action taken by CFI would almost surely be successful, given that Illinois and Wisconsin are part of the same court circuit as Indiana, the Seventh, in which Judge Frank Easterbrook made clear that Indiana’s bar on Secular Celebrants was discriminatory and impermissible under the U.S. Constitution, stating, “It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize weddings if, and only if, they falsely declare they are a ‘religion.’”

“The Center for Inquiry is willing to bring suit in both Wisconsin and Illinois,” writes Little. “The precedent as established by Judge Easterbrook is controlling, and leaves no doubt that such a suit would be successful. Lawsuits are, however, expensive for both parties. It is therefore in the interests both of the Center for Inquiry and its members, and the state of Illinois that litigation in this matter is avoided, especially where the eventual outcome is so clear.” Little states that he and CFI welcome the opportunity to work with both states to see that Secular Celebrants are treated equally under the law.

Full PDFs of the letters are available here, to Gov. Quinn of Illinois and Gov. Walker of Wisconsin.

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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