October 21, 2008
(Washington, D.C., October 21, 2008) Today the American Humanist Association put Clark County Clerk Shirley B. Parraguirre on notice that she may be sued for denying an atheist’s application for a Certificate of Permission to Perform Marriages in Nevada. Parraguirre is also the Commissioner of Civil Marriages.
In a letter from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center in Washington, D.C., attorney Robert V. Ritter wrote to Clerk Parraguirre on behalf of Michael Jacobson, a member of the American Humanist Association. Jacobson’s application for certification to perform marriages was denied on June 18, 2008.
Ritter argues that this denial was in violation of the U.S. Constitution and calls on Parraguirre to “re-evaluate and approve his application.” The letter adds, “If I do not hear from you by November 12, 2008, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center will recommend to Mr. Jacobson that he commence litigation for declaratory and injunctive relief.”
A detailed legal memorandum accompanying Ritter’s letter challenges two Nevada laws: NRS 122.062 and 122.064, on the grounds that by allowing ministers to perform weddings–thus making them agents of the state–the government delegates “discretionary powers to religious institutions” without giving the same level of authority to nonreligious persons and institutions. This makes the Nevada laws “unconstitutional as an impermissible delegation of governmental authority,” the memorandum says.
Ronald A. Lindsay, CEO of the Center For Inquiry and one of the attorneys who represented William Woods-Bateman in a similar matter in Hawaii, coauthored the memorandum. If a legal suit is launched, the two organizations have agreed to assist in representing Jacobson.
The memorandum goes on to point out: “Accurate record keeping is often cited as the secular reason for designating which individuals are permitted to solemnize marriages.” This position is then refuted.
Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association and a former Las Vegas civil liberties attorney, said today, “In our modern age, clergy are no longer among the few people literate enough to perform marriage ceremonies and keep marriage records. Literacy is all but universal in the United States. Therefore, any rejection of atheists as suitable wedding celebrants is nothing more than an anachronistic prejudice and an example of bald religious discrimination.”
The complete text of the letter and memorandum are available here:
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.