‘No God, no marriage,’ judge in Kentucky tells atheist couple
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is on the case of godly County Judge Executive Hollis Alexander, above, who recently refused to conduct a wedding ceremony for a non-religious couple.
According to the FFRF, Mandy Heath and her fiancé, Jon, were planning on getting married in Trigg County on July 22 at Alexander’s courthouse. Heath arranged with the county clerk to get the marriage license and have Alexander perform the legal formalities in his courtroom. The couple planned a family ceremony for the next day.
Heath insisted that the marriage be secular. But after she told the clerk of her wish to exclude religion, Alexander called Heath to inform her that he wouldn’t be able to perform the ceremony. When asked why, Alexander reportedly responded:
I include God in my ceremonies, and I won’t do one without him.
He then told the couple, who are not from Kentucky, that they should find another officiant.
On learning of his refusal. FFRF told Alexander that, under the US Constitution, he, as a government official, has an obligation to remain neutral on religious matters.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel said in a letter to the judge:
The Supreme Court has established that the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and non-religion. Moreover, it has stated, ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere’.
By refusing to provide secular ceremonies, Trigg County sends a message of religious endorsement. However, according to the Constitution, it is illegal to condition a government benefit on a religious test. By conditioning the receipt of a marriage license from Trigg County on an agreement to have a religious ceremony, the county is violating the rights of non-religious couples to equal access to government benefits.
Under Kentucky law, marriage may be solemnised by religious figures and government employees and officials, FFRF reminds Alexander. There is no requirement that such ceremonies be religious, since any such requirement would be unconstitutional.
The letter concluded:
As a government employee, you have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral on religious matters while acting in your official capacity. You have no right to impose your personal religious beliefs on people seeking to be married.
Governments in this nation, including the Commonwealth of Kentucky, are secular. They do not have the power to impose religion on citizens.
The bottom line is that by law, there must be a secular option for people seeking to get married.
In Trigg County, you are that secular option. The default ceremony offered by your office should be secular and people wishing to add in religion should be able to do so upon request. Not the other way around and certainly not to the exclusion of a secular option.
We request written assurances that future wedding ceremonies you perform will be secular. If citizens wish to have religious ceremonies, they can amend the ceremony as they see fit or get married in a church. I look forward to your written response.
Hat tip: Peter Sykes and Trevor Blake