Texas Secular Celebrant Case Appealed to Fifth Circuit

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

Center for Inquiry Seeks Equal Treatment for Nonreligious Wedding Officiants

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Nonreligious couples in Texas deserve the same right enjoyed by their religious neighbors; the choice to have their marriages solemnized by an officiant who represents their life stance and beliefs. Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court denied this right, a decision now being appealed by the Center for Inquiry (CFI), an organization that advances reason, science, and secular humanist values.

CFI filed its opening brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of CFI v. Warren on Tuesday, seeking equal treatment under the law for the marriage celebrants trained and certified through its own Secular Celebrant program. These qualified officiants are currently denied the right to solemnize marriages in Texas merely because they do not identify as religious.

The Texas Marriage Law (Texas Family Code § 2.202) currently permits only certain current and retired judges or religious officials to solemnize a marriage—that is, to sign the marriage license and make a marriage legal. CFI trains its Secular Celebrants to perform weddings, funerals, and baby welcoming ceremonies for the rapidly growing sector of the American public who do not want religious involvement in such situations. Steve Bratteng, Director of CFI Austin, and Eric McCutchan, two such trained CFI Secular Celebrants, joined the national organization in challenging this discriminatory law in the federal courts.

“I’ve not seen a law that more blatantly and facially violates the Constitution’s prohibition against establishment of religion and its guarantee of equal protection for all,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “This law takes a government benefit—the right to solemnize marriages—and conditions it explicitly on a person’s religion. That’s as unconstitutional as it gets.”

The appeal is in response to a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas granting the state’s motion to dismiss CFI’s claims. This was in spite of CFI having won a functionally identical case in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, overturning Indiana’s discriminatory law, a landmark ruling that CFI later extended to cover Illinois as well.

“Texas claims that only religious celebrants or judges can be trusted to treat weddings with the solemnity and respect they deserve,” added Little. “This completely fails to square with the long-accepted practice of allowing those with fly-by-night online or mail-order ordinations, such as from the Universal Life Church or the Church of Body Modification, to solemnize marriages without any formal training.”

“All we want is for our celebrants to be allowed to serve our community, without lying and pretending to follow a religion they do not believe in,” said Little.

CFI is represented in this case pro bono by the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP, with a team led by partner Scott Barnard and including associates Erin Brewer and Richard Cochrane, all of the firm’s Dallas office.

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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.