Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Suit Challenges Disqualification of Ministers Ordained Online As Marriage Officiants

Suit was filed yesterday in a Pennsylvania federal district court seeking to declare unconstitutional the position taken by the Bucks County, Pennsylvania clerk of courts that ministers who were ordained online may not solemnize marriages under Pennsylvania law. Apparently the county takes the position that those ordained online are not clergy of a "regularly established church or congregation", as required by 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1503. The complaint (full text) in Universal Life Church Monastery Storehouse v. Bobrin, (ED PA, filed 2/16/2021), alleges that this interpretation violates the Free Exercise, Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses, saying in part:

... Defendant has used the powers of her office to discourage ULC Monastery ministers from exercising rights afforded to ministers of other religions. Defendant’s apparent policy of discrimination unconstitutionally prefers certain religions or religious denominations over others and burdens ULC Monastery’s and its ministers’ free exercise of religion. To the extent Defendant is correct that 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1503 bars ULC Monastery ministers from solemnizing marriages while granting that benefit to ministers of other religious denominations, the statute is unconstitutional.

Universal Life Church issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.