The Universal Life Church Is Suing TN Over a New Law Banning Online Ordinations June 25, 2019

The Universal Life Church Is Suing TN Over a New Law Banning Online Ordinations

As I mentioned last week, Tennessee’s GOP lawmakers have passed a law (HB 213) making it illegal to officiate weddings if your required ordination comes from an online website.

That means, beginning July 1, your friend will no longer be allowed to pay a few bucks to a place like Universal Life Church to “become” a priest just for the purpose of conducting your wedding ceremony.

One predominantly online church has responded to this by taking a bus tour throughout the state to ordain anyone who stops by, especially people who were going to officiate their friends’ weddings this summer… until Republicans got in their way.

But the Universal Life Church, which claims to have ordained more than 20 million people over the past four decades, is going straight for the jugular.

They announced a federal lawsuit against four county clerks and the state’s attorney general to block the law from taking effect.

The ULCM has thousands of active ministers and members across the State of Tennessee, individuals whose Constitutional and spiritual rights have been denied them by Tennessee lawmakers. These individuals, they claim, perform hundreds of beautiful, personal weddings in Tennessee every year for those who embrace the ULCM’s ideals of love and freedom. In its complaint, ULCM alleges that Tennessee’s decision limits who may solemnize a marriage to a select few. The Universal Life Church Ministries’ legal challenge aims to halt and reverse what they consider a discriminatory law and restore and protect the rights of all ministers of all faiths in The Volunteer State.

The ULC also takes a shot at American Marriage Ministries — its competition, in one sense — for doing that bus tour offering in-person ordinations.

The ULCM additionally claims to [have] been disheartened by the short-sighted response of some other organizations who they perceive have leapt gleefully into the laps of Tennessee lawmakers and begun offering in-person ordinations in order to appease them. Rather than acquiesce to Tennessee’s demands, which the Universal Life Church Ministries argues would compel it to compromise its religious freedom, the ULCM has declared that it wholeheartedly rejects this outdated notion of religion and fully intends to proudly defend its open model.

The lawsuit itself was made on behalf of three plaintiffs in the state who have online ordinations from the ULC and were scheduled to officiate a wedding later this year. Because of the new law, they won’t be allowed to do it — so they undoubtedly have standing in this case.

The ULC says this is religious discrimination. The state has said their faith essentially doesn’t count when compared to other groups that are allowed to bestow certification on people who can ordain weddings. They also cite their Equal Protection and Due Process rights — the Fourteenth Amendment in addition to the First — as well as violations of the Tennessee Constitution.

They are asking for a “temporary restraining order, later to be made a permanent injunction” prohibiting the law from taking effect.

As much as I love the bus tour plan, this is much more direct way to go after an unjust law. The ULC has asked for an expedited hearing date so this can be resolved as quickly as possible.

***Update***: Lewis King, the Executive Director of American Marriage Ministries, defended his group’s bus tour in an email, saying “we felt compelled to do something in the short-and medium term for our ministers, who asked us to come here and provide this service.” He added:

we’re excited to see that ULC Monastery is joining the opposition to this discriminatory bill, to see that online-ordained ministers’ rights are upheld in the state of Tennessee. We wish them the best, and hope for a quick and successful resolution!

(via Religion Clause. Image via Shutterstock)


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