Atheist Couple Claims Discrimination by Trigg County Official

Jul 20, 2016

Credit Elena Elisseeva

A non-religious couple is claiming discrimination from a western Kentucky county official who refuses to marry the couple without a religious ceremony.  

Jon and Mandy Heath arranged to marry at the Trigg County Courthouse this month, but say they were informed by Judge Executive Hollis Alexander that he won’t perform the secular ceremony they requested, only a religious one.  

According to the couple's complaint, Alexander told them "I include God in my ceremonies, and I won't do one without him."

Andrew Seidel, an attorney with the Minnesota-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, says he sent a letter to Alexander emphasizing that any requirement of a religious ceremony is unconstitutional. “There is a separation of church and state in this country," said Seidel. "Our government cannot require citizens to have a religious ceremony, to say religious language, to engage in any form of religion whatsoever. And that is what this judge was trying to do here.”

Seidel says by refusing to provide a neutral wedding, Trigg County is issuing a religious endorsement.

“The default ceremony should be a secular wedding ceremony, if people want a religious ceremony, they can get married in a church. What can’t happen is the judge to tell the non-religious couple, the only way they can get married in my county is a religious wedding. That is 100% unconstitutional under the 1st amendment, doesn’t matter what state law says.”

Alexander says he has ceased officiating wedding ceremonies for the time being, and plans to issue a further statement Wednesday after conferring with his legal council.

Last year, Rowan County clerk Kim Davis made headlines after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on religious grounds.  

Seidel and the FFRF are also involved in advising public schools from several states to refrain from sponsoring school field trips to the Kentucky Ark Encounter exhibit saying it encourages religious proselytizing.