Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Universal Life Church Can Move Ahead With Suit Over Nevada Marriage Solemnization Law

In Universal Life Church Monastery v. Clark County Nevada, (D NV, Sept. 19, 2021), a Nevada federal district court allowed the Universal Life Church (ULC) which ordains ministers online to move ahead with its equal protection challenge to the refusal of the county to allow its ministers to solemnize marriages. A law—which was in effect only during 2016-2017—required a religious organization to be incorporated, organized or established in the state in order for it to be able to certify its ministers to perform weddings. The court rejected the Church’s free exercise claims, saying in part:

[A]n entity, organization, or person has no First Amendment free exercise right to perform civil marriages….. The Court thus finds that Plaintiff ULC does not have standing to bring a First Amendment Free Exercise claim.

Similarly it rejected ULC’s free exercise claim under the state constitution, and its due process claim, saying in part:

The plain language of ... [the Nevada Constitution] is directed to the “religious profession and worship” and makes no mention of the civil law process of solemnizing marriages. Because this language does not explicitly or implicitly create a claim, there is no standing for a religious organization to bring a free exercise claim for not being included in a civil legal process.

The court also rejected ULC’s procedural due process argument. However it refused to dismiss ULC’s equal protection claim, saying in part:

ULC presented evidence that another similarly situated non-traditional church ... was able to satisfy requirements solely because its listing on the Nevada Secretary of State website contained a checkbox showing it was registered as a religious organization. Therefore, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants implemented its approval process in a discriminatory manner.... [W]hether ULC provided the requested documents ... is a genuine dispute of material fact. The Court therefore denies summary judgment as to both parties.