Texas Court Rejects Secular Wedding Celebrants, Center for Inquiry Vows to Appeal

For Immediate Release: August 19, 2019
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

Under Texas law, having the wedding of your dreams is a benefit unfairly reserved for religious people, now a federal district court in Texas says that’s okay.

On August 16, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, rejected a challenge to the privileged status granted religious organizations and individuals under Texas marriage law.

In November 2018, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) sued the County Clerk of Dallas County for enforcing a state law that limits the authority to solemnize marriages to judges and clergy — any clergy, even instant, online-certified reverends. That same law denies Texas’s nonreligious residents the opportunity to have their unions formalized by a Secular Celebrant who shares their worldview and values.

In seeking the authority to solemnize marriages in the state for its certified Secular Celebrants, CFI, which in recent years has won similar cases in Indiana and Illinois, asserted that Texas law unconstitutionally privileged religion over nonreligion. The court rejected those grounds, instead approving the status quo, a discriminatory system of exclusion for the state’s growing secular population. CFI has promised to appeal the decision.

“While we are not shocked by this decision, the court’s favoritism toward religion is really quite galling,” said CFI Vice President and General Counsel Nick Little. “While the religious may seek out a wedding officiant who reflects their core beliefs and values, this court seems to think that nonreligious couples should just suck it up and be happy with whatever municipal employee is available that day to sign off on their paperwork.”

“This decision has clarified one issue, and very starkly,” said Little. “If we referred to ourselves as a religion, they would have to allow us to solemnize marriages, for they assume that anyone calling themselves a religion, be they of a traditional faith or a fly-by-night mail-order operation, their ceremonies will contain ‘the necessary level of respect and solemnity.’ This court would rob the nonreligious of the chance for that very kind of respectful ceremony, and gives carte blanche to any outfit declaring themselves to be a religion.”

The Center for Inquiry, which trains and certifies Secular Celebrants, won a landmark victory in federal court in 2014 when challenging a similar law in Indiana, followed by another major win in Illinois in 2017. CFI also laid the groundwork for Secular Celebrant legislation enacted in Oregon in 2017, and last year filed another suit in federal court in Michigan.

“The religiously unaffiliated make up a fifth of Texas’s population, and that’s millions of people who this court has decided don’t deserve to have the same rights to a meaningful marriage ceremony that religious Texans enjoy,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We will appeal this wrongheaded decision to the Fifth Circuit, where we fully expect to be vindicated, providing a springboard to further victories in Louisiana and Mississippi as well. Nonreligious Americans will not be denied this most fundamental recognition of their equality.”

CFI thanks Akin Gump LLP for their diligent and impressive work representing it in this case.

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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 centerforinquiry.org.