Holy Bonds of Matrimony? August 14, 2010

Holy Bonds of Matrimony?

Reader Chelsea lives in Tennessee and she’s getting married this September. She and her fiancé are both atheists and plan to have a secular wedding ceremony, so they were a bit surprised when they went to go get their marriage license and saw this:

“Holy Bonds of Matrimony”?

Chelsea writes:

… It didn’t really make sense to me for a legal document to deem our marriage “holy.” I thought that the word “legal” might make more sense. Do you know if this is the norm in other states as well?…

I assume many people needing a marriage license are religious, but not everyone… and the state must know this.

She’s going to check with the county clerk’s office to see if there are any alternatives, but can anyone offer an explanation?

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  • I have no idea, except that my (Idaho) marriage license definitely does not include the word “holy”

  • Madeleine

    Tennessee is a VERY religious state. My boyfriend has family and friends who grew up there and as far as I know, all of them are in some sect of Christianity. It was awkward for me visiting them; upon parting at the airport, my boyfriend’s father said “I know you’re not a believer, but I pray for you to have a safe trip home.”
    I know it’s meant well, but to a non-believer it comes off as very condescending.
    Before I start ranting………
    That’s my possible explanation and it seems logical enough.

  • It needs an exclamation as in “Holy bonds of matrimony, Batman!”

  • I couldn’t tell you if it is different in any other state but as cynical as it sounds, are you really surprised?

  • Jim H

    Holy s***!

    We got married in Nevada…the heading on our marriage certificate (which started out as a license) is “Marriage Certificate.”

    [Although, adding “Batman!” to the above would be ok. Nice job, hoverfrog.]

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Take a look at page 28 of this 30-page PDF about Tennessee marriage procedures:

    It shows a marriage license with that wording, and no alternative. It’s been like this at least since 2006 (date of that PDF), and probably longer.

    I’m surprised nobody has complained about this online before. Now I have to wonder if any other states have similar BS going on and nobody’s bothered to complain about them yet either. Attention FFRF.org!

    A government document with this wording shouldn’t be offered to anyone, even as a non-default option. Anyone who wants a marriage document with religious wording can get a supplemental one from their church.

    (And ideally, not only should TN fix this from now on, but they should also mail letters to everyone in the state issued a marriage license in the past some-number-of years, offering to provide a replacement license with corrected wording to anyone who wants one. I’m sure there’s other people in this situation who just sighed and accepted it because they were given no choice and didn’t want to cause a stink.)

  • Karen

    Why does the holy have to be relegated to God?

    Good old fashioned metaphor can help you through this. My advice would be to take the word back and use it for your own experience.

    And breathe through it, btw. Your new marriage should be a happy time. You’ll have enough stress without fighting with some elderly lady behind a counter over a blip of verbiage.

  • Ugg, that is awful. My Catholic BIL was aking me who my husband and I were promising our fidelity too in our wedding if God wasn’t invited…? Um each other. We are promising to love and honor each other to each other.
    Anyway, I am pretty sure Maryland does NOT include any religious allusion in their paperwork.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Karen, although your well-intentioned advice is obviously what everyone else who’s had a nonreligious marriage in TN has done, maybe Chelsea & Justin would rather not be the next in a long line of people to let it slide.

    What came to mind when I read your comment was “Why does sitting at the back of the bus have to be a bad thing? It can be fun. Breathe through it. You’ll have enough stress from all the other hardships in your life without fighting with some bus driver over a seating assignment.” Rosa Parks did what she did because she was, quote, “tired of giving in”. It isn’t about the word (and pretending it has some other intended meaning), it’s about what it represents as it was intended.

    The nonreligious are taunted and harrassed by church-state separation violations on a daily basis, and many of us are unwilling/unable to speak up ourselves due to the discrimination and ostracism we’d face from employers and family. I applaud anyone willing to speak out about any violation, large or small.

  • mthrnite

    In North Carolina, the Marriage Certificate is littered with religious references.

    “This certifies that I, (judge’s name) in and for the State and County aforesaid, united in HOLY MATRIMONY (our names) according to the ordinance of God and under License No. xx-xxxx”

    Also, up at the top of the document it has the phrase “Those Whom God Hath Joined Together Let No Man Put Asunder”.

    We got married at the courthouse by a judge, just to avoid all the god/church junk that neither of us believed in. When we were met with this (and more, I had to sign something “under the eyes of God”) I was ticked, but it just wouldn’t have been proper for me to raise a stink about it on my wedding day.

    This is why I think marriage should be tossed out as a legal concept and civil unions brought in to replace it. You want a “marriage”, go to a church and swing some incense around.

  • tez

    Yeah, it’s Tennessee

  • Hitch

    It explains perfectly well why there is such a battle over gay marriage.

  • Pickle

    I was so sure i would find a religious reference on my Texas marriage license but I didn’t! Yay us! Maybe we’re not the completely backwards state the rest of the nation thinks we are, after all. =)

  • JD

    It doesn’t look like a legal document. It looks like one of those certificates you get for attending, er, “passing” some seminar.

  • I am not trying to be obtuse or ignorant here but I am wondering why is it SO bad to have the words “holy” in the marriage cert just cos one is an atheist? It didn’t say “Godly” bonds etc or anything of that kind…

  • Philbert

    @Anonymous Atheist: Rosa Parks is becoming the new Godwin. Use sparingly

  • would love to understand better… =)

  • Icaarus


    Congratulations (That certificate is dated yesterday people, lets all congratulate the newly wed couple).

    Sounds like your state needs their head read on the whole separation of church and state idea. That being said go enjoy your Honeymoon, refresh yourself from the craziness of any wedding. After you get back you can start thinking about writing your senator Andy Dufresne style. Once a week until they send you the ‘please shut up letter’ then twice a week until they do something about it.

    Congratulations again Chelsea (and Justin), enjoy this weekend and whatever plans you have.

  • Roxane

    Mine, from California, looks like any other bit of bureaucratic gobbledegook–kind of like the title on a car.

  • Charlotte

    My husband & I live in TN. When we got married (almost 8yrs ago) we received a similar certificate. It looks a little different now, but has the same wording. If I recall correctly, we had to sign another paper after the ceremony that the minister had to turn in to the clerk’s office. I think the “Holy Bonds” certificate is for you.

    If you’re wondering, my husband was already an atheist when we married & I was on the way… My family’s really religious though. I regret the church wedding now. Eloping would have been the way to go. 🙂

  • Ron in Houston

    Well as anyone who has been divorced will tell you the bonds can be decidedly unholy.

  • I had to go get our marriage license out to check, as it never occurred to me before…yeah, like Pickle, I was VERY surprised that there are no overt religious sentiments on it. Says “bonded in the rites of marriage” or some such. Texas has a long way to go yet, but at least it’s something positive. ‘Course, the officiant’s signature is followed by “Minister of the Gospel,” but we were bamboozled by that guy. Secular ceremony my arse.

  • Carlie

    It doesn’t look like a legal document. It looks like one of those certificates you get for attending, er, “passing” some seminar.

    Yeah, this most likely isn’t the actual legal document, but an additional “suitable for framing” decorative version the county hands out. In a different state, we had the legal version and were also given a “pretty” version. Still shouldn’t be done with “holy” in it, but it at least isn’t the legal one.

  • The Iowa marriage certificate has checkboxes for “groom”, “bride”, or just “spouse” (for gay marriages). No God references or flowery language, just proof of marriage.

  • Wholly typo! I think the clerk’s office would like to know that they have a typo on their certificate.

  • Surprisingly enough, my Oklahoma marriage license doesn’t have any religious BS on it. All that was consumed by the BS needed to try and get it, but that’s a whole different story 😀

  • Crystal

    I got married in Tennessee, and my marriage license doesn’t look like that at all, nor does it mention “Holy” anything. Granted, I was married in 2003, but I am surprised at the change. Maybe it varies from county to county?

  • matt

    My New Mexico marriage license says the same thing: “Holy bonds of matrimony.”

  • PapaJay

    Now you’ve all got me wondering what mine said, so will look it up and be back. BTW, does anyone know what’s on Nevada’s? I figure if I ever get married again, it’ll be in Vegas, liquored up on booze with an officiant dressed as Elvis. Figured this time, it should at least be fun!

  • PapaJay

    Sorry Jim H,
    Missed your post stating what Nevada has. Thank you very much for the info.

  • Daniel


    My wife and I got married in Ireland. Didn’t say “holy” but did have signature blanks for the “groom” and “spinster” who are getting married.

  • So is there a decent place to look up all the non-religous options?

    I believe that in NC if you are not married right in the courthouse, you have to be married by a minister of some sort – even for civil ceremonies, which I’m against. And now from what was said above i’m not even sure I want to get married in my own state with all that gook on the license.

  • The Other Tom

    Goingkookies, the reason it’s bad is because it directly violates the first amendment of the US Constitution, because it is government endorsement of religion.

    Chelsea should call in the ACLU or FFRF and sue.

  • Great American Satan

    @Philbert- I have to reassert my position on Godwin’s law: It’s bullshit, because it doesn’t let you call a nazi a nazi. Guess what? Some people think the jews are out to get us and must be eliminated to keep the Aryan race pure. But I guess they’re just “national socialism enthusiasts” or something?

    Yeah, rosaparks or nazi sparingly, but in this situation, I say it works well. Huzzah!

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Adventuresofj, here’s a few links you might find helpful:


    As mentioned in the third link, if a minister is required, you could get a trusted friend to become a Universal Life Church ‘minister’ easily, rather than risk trusting a ‘real’ minister not to bring in religiousness. (At both weddings and funerals, many people have reported that ministers who had promised nonreligious people to give a nonreligious ceremony went against their wishes when the time came.)

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Crystal: Thanks for the additional TN data point! It sounds like the wording (and more?) may have changed relatively recently, some time between 2003 and 2006. The PDF I linked didn’t say anything about it varying by county, only displaying one version, with this ‘holy’ wording, as if it applied to the whole state. So although county-by-county differences are possible, it currently looks doubtful without more data to go on.

  • Anonymous Atheist:

    What came to mind when I read your comment was “Why does sitting at the back of the bus have to be a bad thing? It can be fun. Breathe through it. You’ll have enough stress from all the other hardships in your life without fighting with some bus driver over a seating assignment.” Rosa Parks did what she did because she was, quote, “tired of giving in”.


    @Anonymous Atheist: Rosa Parks is becoming the new Godwin. Use sparingly


  • muggle

    holy (?h??l?)
    — adj , holier , holiest
    1. of, relating to, or associated with God or a deity; sacred
    2. endowed or invested with extreme purity or sublimity
    3. devout, godly, or virtuous
    4. holier-than-thou offensively sanctimonious or self-righteous: a holier-than-thou attitude
    5. holy terror
    a. a difficult or frightening person
    b. informal ( Irish ) a person who is an active gambler, womanizer, etc
    — n , holier , holiest , -lies
    6. a. a sacred place
    b. ( functioning as plural ) the holy persons or things invested with holiness

    Watcha ya mean that’s not religious, Willis? (Or Karen or goingkookies?) Why charitably ascribed meaning #5 to the word rather than #1 its most common definition?

    I’m with Anonymous Atheist down the line. Everyone has to choose their own battles but why pick at someone who fought one you blew off as not worth it? It’s quite often the quiet ones that benefit from those who had more courageous to fight.

    Congratulations, Chelsea and Justin. Best wishes to you!

  • Anonymous Atheist

    muggle: And using definition #5 doesn’t sound like an auspicious start to a marriage either! 😆

    Thanks for your agreement despite the analogy-thought-police who miss the point. 🙂

  • Susan Robinson

    A little off topic….
    A great piece on why gays should be allowed to marry, printed in our very conservative newspaper….

  • Rich Wilson

    Since it’s easier to google than to find my own hardcopy, here’s a GA example with that wording: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~staceystrail/hunter3.jpg

    The marriage is from 1831, but the license is 2000

  • Stephanie

    Just got married in Las Vegas (we live here) and our license didn’t say anything like that. We did a civil marriage at the office of civil marriage, and it was completely secular and awesome.

  • Keep in mind the Marriage License is not equivalent to the the Marriage Certificate in most, if not all locales. The Marriage Certificate is usually subject to the authority of/over the person solemnizing your marriage. If the officiant has a religious affiliation, religious context on the certificate isn’t surprising. A secular officiant shouldn’t have a problem keeping religious tones out of the certificates they use.

  • Demonhype

    Great American Satan beat me to it. I was going to point out that, from my understanding, it’s only Godwin if it is not particularly relevant. If someone, for example, is saying “let’s take everyone who belongs to Group X and put them in camps/kill them”, then a reference to the Nazis is not uncalled for, for example.

    Whereas the more common use–“I don’t like Idea/Person/Group X so I’m going to painfully torture reason, logic, and the english language to force some kind of connection between them and the Nazis to make my position sound more valid and lend it emotional appeal”. Or even more common, the intensely lazy method of simply proclaiming the Idea/Person/Group you don’t like to be Nazi just becuz u sed so. (Example–Teabaggers referencing Obama and the Democrats as being Nazis. “I don’t like him, therefore Nazi” *groan*.) Same motivation as the former, though.

    In this case, it could be easily argued that sitting at the back of the bus is a small and meaningless thing, and it was extreme for Rosa Parks to make a big deal of it. Why invite the hassle and the stress of standing up for yourself, when it takes so little to just sit at the back of the bus or give up your seat to that white guy? When set against the lynchings of the time, for example, what is a little thing like that? She should have just shut up and done what she was expected to do.

    Well, I wouldn’t find that easy to argue. I would find that kind of argument to be the most mealy-mouthed bunch of crap I ever heard in my life and I’d be appalled to know that bleep-bleep came out of my mouth. Then I would invite someone to shoot me. /Tiny Tank

    However, someone who has no concept of the nature and mechanics of discrimination would have no problem making such an argument and finding a way to blame the victim for being uppity outspoken.

    This is often followed with the claim that any negative consequences–such as discrimination, ostracism, death threats, loss of job, etc–are entirely the fault of the victim and not the system that victimized them and then punished them for objecting to the mistreatment. If the victim didn’t want to be targeted like that, the victim would have kept his/her head down and done what s/he was told, and then the victim would still be living in a nominally comfortable status quo existence rather than the living nightmare that has since erupted. Remember kids, no matter how bad things are, we can always make them worse for you! Why do you fight, Lucy? It’s so much better if you don’t fight!

    Hmm. Well, I had thought I was in a weird mood, but I believe I am now officially freaking out. I’ll sign off now.

  • Regarding “from my understanding, it’s only Godwin if it is not particularly relevant:” Godwin’s ‘law’ just says “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” So it’s not about it being relevant or not…

    And as a person who wouldn’t exist without the work of those who fought for equal rights for black people, and who has become intimately familiar with the civil rights movement, I see a world of difference between choosing to be bothered by a word on a piece of paper you might see three or four times in your life and being inconvenienced every single day of your life by people who think you are a subhuman, animal race.

    If it really bothers you, make a little noise about it to people who might actually be able to change it, like your congresspeople. But don’t go comparing yourself to people who put their lives at risk for doing something so “simple” as standing up for themselves.

  • mouse


    I’m very curious now, what did you have to go through in Oklahoma?

    I was married in 1996 in Lake County, IL; no god stuff on my license. My mom was married in 1980 in Hawaii and in 1987 in Reno, NV. No god stuff there either. For the tally.

  • mouse

    Oh and I’m a ULC minister and officiated a wedding a few years ago in Sacramento, CA. No god stuff there either.

  • Hey, I’m a ULC minister, too. Easiest seminary ever.

  • mouse

    Word up. I just moved to a new state though (and I’m right on the border of another). Gotta call them up and find out if they can set me up for two more states real quick like.

  • You know, if the Libertarians had their way, this would be a complete non-issue. Get the government out of the marriage institution altogether! No tax breaks, no recognition, no legislation: Let the government treat us as individuals instead of legally ordained couples and the varying opinions on what makes a couple a “real” couple no longer have any credence or sting.

  • Kamaka


    I see a world of difference between choosing to be bothered by a word on a piece of paper you might see three or four times in your life and being inconvenienced every single day of your life by people who think you are a subhuman, animal race.

    The only difference I see between racism and discrimination against atheists is a matter of degree…you can’t tell by looking at me I’m an atheist. But be outspoken about godlessness, and the consequences can be quite harsh. Subhuman animal is indeed the societal response.

    So, you’re at the county clerks office, and they hand you the document in question. Your response is: “Holy Matrimony? This won’t do at all. Would you give me the secular version of the certificate, please.”

    In violation of the law of the land, the response would certainly be “Sorry, no can do.”

    This is just one of a thousand cuts, large and small, the religionist bullies impose upon the rest of us every day. Homophobic discrimination, the war on drugs (which is a war on race), victimless crime, blue laws (which I live with, no shopping till noon on Sunday, not a big deal but still religious bullying), In God We Trust-One Nation Under God-So Help Me God.

    What do we do with a 14-year-old prostitute? We arrest them and charge them with a crime. Irrational religious “reasoning” at it’s finest, what love and compassion!

    “Holy Matrimony” on a required government document is religious discriminatory bullying. Discrimination should be resisted by all righteous people, wherever it rears it’s ugly head.

  • I’m of two minds about this.

    Mind the first:

    It’s a word on a piece of paper. It’s not bullying. If you’re really so offended, take a sharpie and cross it out. Deal with the real problems that the mixing of religion and the state can cause; this simply isn’t one of them. You can choose whether or not you want to be bothered by the word ‘holy’ here. I’d just choose to ignore it as unimportant.

    Mind the second:

    You’re right, we should oppose religious exceptionalism wherever it tries to get its foot in the door. Our Constitution was intentionally written as a secular document, and is declared to be the supreme law of our nation – not a holy book, not a dogma, not anybody’s pet beliefs, but the Constitution. Everybody should be up in arms about this, not just the atheists; it’s a violation of the spirit of equality that is one of the great founding pillars of America.

    In any case… if we start dragging out Rosa Parks comparisons and comparisons to racism when we’re dealing with something this petty, it’ll sound pretty tired by the time we get to something that matters much more, like removing the unconstitutional religious tests for office that are written into some state constitutions. I’m leery of comparing discrimination against atheists to discrimination against minorities precisely for the fact that minorities were officially considered to be ‘lesser.’ There were laws stating that minorities shouldn’t be equal to white people. I don’t see a lot of laws saying that atheists are second-class citizens. Sure, plenty of blowhard politicians have said such things, but their opinion isn’t law.

  • Kamaka

    @ MikeThe Infidel

    It’s a word on a piece of paper. It’s not bullying.

    I respectfully disagree. “Holy Matrimony” is imposing a religious sensibility upon folks who may or may not agree with the sentiment. Presuppositional bullying.

    comparisons to racism when we’re dealing with something this petty

    I don’t see this as petty at all. Where does any governmental body get off imposing their religious sensibilities upon the rest of society? Perhaps this is more subtle than overt racist laws, but not by much.

    The new version of racist laws is the holier-than-thou “war on drugs” (think Saint Reagan), a wholly whitey religion-inspired set of rules to lock up brown people for smoking pot or Horrors! sniff white powders while being black.

    So I say again, this is a matter of degree. A declared atheist, despite the Constitution clearly stating that there shall be no religious test to hold office, would stand no chance of being elected to high office at this time. Far less chance than a person of color.

    The religionist bullies aren’t doing so well with overt racism these days…but they still find their ways to oppress impoverished people of color, teh gayz, secularists and women who think they have reproductive rights.

    Bigots and bullies, the lot of them.

  • Demonhype

    Thanks, Kamaka–you said it better than I ever could, and amen on that worthless Drug War! I could easily believe that the Holy Drug War has eroded more rights than even the Patriot act, but I won’t get into that here.

    That “matter of degree” thing is exactly what I keep going on about. I’ve heard that some black people who are quite religious come up with some tortured justifications for discriminating against atheists, and one of them was “well, we were lynched and you aren’t, so shut up and suck it up because you’re only allowed to complain if you’re being physically attacked.” Of course, discrimination doesn’t stop being wrong just because one form is less violent or less oppressive than another.

    And I am serious that the issue of sitting at the back of the bus could be easily dismissed by many people–or any kind of small discrimination, really, as if such a thing really exists. There are people who would easily say “just sit at the back of the bus, does it really hurt you that much? It’s not like you’re being flogged or something” and then blame you because you made a stand. You could easily say that it’s a “little” thing, and utterly meaningless when you consider that they could be lynching you or something. And this could be said about lots of things that are discriminatory but aren’t seen as being very “serious”. For example, “Does it really hurt you to have official prayer at government meetings? It’s such a little thing, why make a stink? Can’t you just suck it up, or come late, or do something else while the others pray?” is something I’ve also heard, and it irritates me just as much.

    First Amendment, though. Bottom line. A godless person should not be forced to have a wedding certificate that is defaced either by an endorsement of religion or by a big smear of black sharpie, especially since there are already laws in place that prohibit this kind of faith endorsement. This is the law, these are our rights, and there is nothing out of line about defending them. The benefit we have, that Rosa Parks didn’t, is that we already have these rights and are only standing up to have them enacted. When you have no rights and are forced to fight to obtain them in the first place, you are bound to have rather more brutal battles involved.

    Not to invoke slippery slope either but when you’ve got people who are actively trying to undermine the Bill of Rights and other people who see no problem in the “small” discriminatory practices, you’ve got a recipe for disaster for civil rights. The former group pushes the boundaries, the latter group accepts it as being too “simple” to bother with and tries to shame those who stand up as being “too extreme”. Of course, then the discrimination gets normalized and you know the former group isn’t going to stop there–they’ve made it plain already. You need to nip the smaller discrimination in the bud because it will become bigger if you don’t.

    That’s why you can’t give them an inch. They will trample you, they have made it clear that they will–besides they do not have the right to any discrimination or government endorsement of faith and I see no reason to concede any ground to them on this matter.

  • Ashley

    Must be a Tennessee thing. I attended a courthouse wedding in Port Orchard, Washington this weekend and not only did the judge not once mention God or any remotely religious word but the marriage certificate simply read “Marriage License”. But hey, that’s the northwest for you.

  • Todd

    “I see a world of difference between choosing to be bothered by a word on a piece of paper you might see three or four times in your life and being inconvenienced every single day of your life by people who think you are a subhuman, animal race.

    If it really bothers you, make a little noise about it to people who might actually be able to change it, like your congresspeople. But don’t go comparing yourself to people who put their lives at risk for doing something so “simple” as standing up for themselves.”

    That you may “see a world of difference” is immaterial, and, as it happens, is precisely why the freedom of religion is constitutionally protected. While you are not troubled by a religious reference on a civil document, others are equally untroubled by the thought of the government favoring Christianity over all other religions – or even over the rejection of religion. What if this document contained a phrase indicating a preference for marriage between two white people? Would it be acceptable for some civil document to contain the word “nigger” simply on the basis that an African-American would only see three or four times in his or her life? Moreover, don’t kid yourself into thinking (most) Christians don’t see atheists as subhuman; former president George H.W. Bush, whose job it was to enforce the Constitution that he took an oath to protect, said that atheists were not truly citizens if The United States. If a U.S. President can utter such an obviously absurd and unconstitutional statement without an uproar of condemnation, it is (sadly) improbable that a letter to any congressional representative would carry any weight whatsoever.
    The sad fact is that the very people who likely are responsible for including a religious reference on a government document, or at least have no objection to it, almost certainly have great reverence for certain constitutional rights (e.g., The 2nd Amendment) and remarkable flexibility for others.
    It’s easy to dismiss something as “petty” when it’s someone else’s rights that are being infringed. I doubt you would find it petty if this document excluded your easily-acquired ULC ordination.

  • It is not a matter of degree. It’s a whole different ball game.

    Racial discrimination of the sort fought by the 1960s-era (etc.) civil rights movement was the legally-enforced restriction or removal of the rights of some citizens. That was a civil rights issue.

    This is a question of whether wording is constitutional. In no way are anyone’s rights being restricted or removed. Nobody is doing anything to keep you from being nonreligious.

  • Erp

    I could imagine some religious people getting upset especially if they have two ceremonies one civil and one religious (e.g., Mormons who may have a civil ceremony [so there non-Mormon friends and relatives can attend] and later have a temple sealing [which can only be attended by Mormons in good standing]).

  • Nan

    Shoot, I was married in TN. Gotta find the license and see what it says. Perhaps some white-out or a black Sharpie would fix the problem?

  • Todd

    @MikeTheInfidel: I’m having a hard time understanding the incongruity between the “About Me” profile on your blog and the ease with which you seem to dismiss the question at hand here as “petty.”
    On your profile you identify yourself as an atheist (and former fundamentalist Christian) and you describe yourself as someone who is committed to the use of reason and evidence. After taking just a cursory look, I would argue that both of these claims are indeed borne out on your blog. In fact, there are a number of excellent posts on the first page of your blog alone, including some astute criticisms of religious irrationality (and a very brave and admirable look at some of your own past apologetics), and, most notably, several posts illustrating the types of insidious demands that religious adherents make of others.
    However, despite all of this, you seem strangely dismissive of this particular instance – and by extension other similar issues – of religious intrusion into the public sphere.
    You are correct that discrimination against atheists is not (generally) explicitly legally codified, but that doesn’t erase the de facto prejudice against atheists. But this is not merely a case of “whether [the] wording is constitutional.” The inclusion of the word “holy” on a government document is plainly unconstitutional; while it may not favor a specific religion, it does represent, if nothing else, favoring a religious idea – and by extension religion – over other religious ideas and/or no religion. The Constitution (or at the very least, case law interpretation) does not allow the government an exemption to favor a general expression of religion over no religion any more than it allows the government to favor Christianity over all other religions. To wit: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Moreover, including the word “holy” on a document like this does, in fact, violate the rights of those who do not practice any religion or hold any religious views, as Justice Souter pointed out writing for the majority in the Supreme Court’s ruling on Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet: “[G]overnment should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.” More to the point, why would you, as an atheist, even tolerate the inclusion of a religious reference on a government document?
    And, while it may be true in a very narrow legal sense, it is not accurate to say that “[n]obody is doing anything to keep you from being nonreligious.” The fact of the matter is that plenty of people are hard at work doing just that, both in the broad sense of unceasing proselytizing and by making exactly the same kinds of demands that others conform to their religious views that you discuss in your blog posts. Both of these are illustrated every time someone tries to display the Ten Commandments in courthouses or on some other government property, or calls for organized prayer in public schools.
    I can certainly understand (and share) your affinity for the civil rights movement and the risks and sacrifices made by so many people, but requiring the government to uphold our constitutional religious freedoms in no way demeans the civil rights movement. In fact, I would argue that fighting to prevent the erosion of religious freedom (even by contesting something that, on its face, might seem trivial) is a continuation of the civil rights struggle. After all, I’m sure that certain of the segregation laws were once seen as trivial by millions of Americans. Whenever the government, be it local, state, or federal, allows a reference to religion to be imposed upon someone, it warrants objection – if for no other reason than to preserve the importance of the Constitution – no matter how “petty” it might be to some. No doubt there are millions of Americans who find objections to the display of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse to be equally petty.

  • My comments here are largely a response to a few others’ attempts to draw parallels between this specific case and the 1960s civil rights movement. And when I said “nobody is doing anything to keep you from being nonreligious,” I would hope it was obvious I was talking about this case.

    I wasn’t commenting here on the rest of the discrimination that atheists face, which most definitely is serious and should be opposed. I’m saying that we should pick our battles. I appreciate that groups like the ACLU and the FFRF are working on many of the more serious forms of discrimination that we face, but so often when I talk to my fellow atheists it feels like we’re too busy focusing on small battles that we could ignore for the moment and not doing much about the root of the problem. Like you said: “discrimination against atheists is not (generally) explicitly legally codified, but that doesn’t erase the de facto prejudice against atheists.” As a group that is a small minority of the population, it’s easy for the majority to ignore us and to trample us underfoot. I would put a higher priority on changing people’s minds than on changing the laws, for the time being. If we can grow our allies’ numbers, we’ll have a better chance of changing the law; without them, it’s easy for the religious to dismiss us as a bunch of “uppity” atheists trying to take their rights away.

  • This is the kind of verbiage that the religious control freaks like to see, proving their point that marriage is religious.

    While it’s not really a place to buck the trend of making a statement on their wedding day, I can see Chelsea and her husband having an issue about it, especially when marriage is a civil secular activity.

    I bet that verbiage just snuck in there without anyone caring or noticing (until now).

    Both of the times I’ve gotten married, which were in Calif, have no God or Holy or any religious reference on them.

  • Kamaka


    I’m saying that we should pick our battles.

    And “Holy Matrimony” on a civil document is well worth fighting over. How dare the religionists presuppose universal acceptance of their version of reality?

  • Really?

    We have religionists telling us that we shouldn’t be GIVEN equal rights as citizens because we’re atheists, and you want to pick a battle that has no effects on your rights at all?

    That scrap of paper is a symbol. Nothing more. It does nothing to restrict your rights. Meanwhile, we’ve got nutjob groups like Sarah Palin and her fellow Dominionists who want to overthrow the republic and install a theocracy in its place.

    Perspective. Get some.

  • Demonhype

    I think Todd said it best. No one is demeaning the civil rights movement–I am constantly amazed at their efforts, and I wish we could still find that kind of courageous spirit today! But they were fighting a system in which they did not have rights in the first place, which made it a harder and more brutal fight. We already have these rights, and we’d be fools to allow them to get trampled just because “it’s not codefied into law that stops us from being atheist” or because “we’re not being lynched”. We’re lucky–we actually have these rights, it’s just that they are being ignored, but we have an advantage of prior codefied rights that the Civil Rights movement did not and we’d be fools not to use that advantage.This is where it starts with these sorts of people, but it’s not where it ends. This is a never ending battle, or at least it will never end as long as there are fanatics dedicated to subjugating the entire world to their particular ideology of choice. So yeah, it’s pretty much never ending.

    People don’t realize that though, and the fanatics take advantage of that. I’m reminded of Homer Simpson telling Lisa that global warming was taken care of already, because there had been some discussion of it and so he assumed it had been solved years ago. That is a lot like the attitudes I hear from a lot of people, who assume similar things–even about race relations. Do you know, Mike, how many people think MLK already “solved” the problem, and that there is no problem anymore? I have been arguing with some of my family for years over this, because they think the race thing is “solved” and everything is “equal”, and that if black people are poorer and more incarcerated, it’s because they are just naturally lazy and dangerous, and that there is no discrimination involved. I shit you not. And these are people who do not consider themselves racist, BTW–all of them voted Obama, and I’m not talking about voting for him reluctantly but voting for him proudly, and at least one of these people grew up in a black neighborhood and taught me as a small child that black people are just people like me. But recently, Obama’s election kind of flushed some of that hidden shit out into the open and forced some of the aforementioned loved ones to admit that “maybe things aren’t as perfect as I’d thought”. Ya think?

    And to that effect, what martymankins said. How often do people hit you with that made-of-fail claim that “the founding fathers put ‘under God’ in the pledge because they intended this to be a Christian Nation, and you are violating the founders of America by pushing for your rights”? Or something to that effect with the motto or the money? This sort of thing is intended as a precursor or a wedge, and once people get used to it and it becomes accepted as the “norm” that even the minority has learned to ignore, it starts getting used as the “evidence” to undermine the opposition in the larger civil rights fights you (Mike) might want to fight.

    (“ceremonial deism”, anyone? or that cross that was there for a long time violating the Constitution, but because it had become “established” over a long amount of time–uncontested mostly because the majority of believers had made it hazardous to contest such a thing over that period of time–it was allowed to remain as “traditional”. The fact is, the longer you allow this sort of thing to go on, the harder it is going to be to fight it, and it will be used as their leverage to enable other, larger violations. There really are no “meaningless” violations that should be ignored because “they aren’t worth it”. The little ones enable the big ones.)

  • JustinCase355798451

    (sarcastically speaking) The Oppression must be killing you…  I mean,
    stripping away your liberty like that… how awful… Now I suppose you
    know how the Negros felt during the civil rights movement. The Gays most
    certainly think they are in a Civil Rights movement where they can’t
    use the same bathrooms, drink at the same water faucet, sit in the front
    of the bus or go to straight establishments… Just like the Negros,
    the Gays can be picked out of a crowd (even the white gays) right?…

    People, there are bigger fish to fry. While you are pondering your own
    self Liberties, America is being RAPED by present and past Presidents
    and their poor leadership and poor decisions. Law is or will be passed
    that makes it okay to persecuted and likely prosecuted the things I just posted…

    Know Freedom, No Freedom.

    Liberty is Lost and our children are Doomed!

    Liberty (Noun): The state of being free within society from
    oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life.

    “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more
    perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the
    common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of
    liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this
    Constitution for the United States of America.”

    The reasons are clear:

      Form a more
    perfect union  Establish
    justice  Insure domestic
    tranquility  Provide for the
    common defense  Promote the
    general welfare  Secure the
    blessings of liberty to all

    All Hope is lost and gone. Say ‘NO’ to OBAMA!

    One Big A$$ Mistake America

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