In a city launched by shotgun weddings and quickie divorces, and which offers the chance to be wed by faux Liberaces, King Tuts and Grim Reapers, there remains at least one nuptial taboo: You can’t be married by an atheist.
Michael Jacobson, a 64-year-old retiree who calls himself a lifelong atheist, tried this year to get a license to perform weddings. Clark County rejected his application because he had no ties to a congregation, as state law requires.So Jacobson and attorneys from two national secular groups — the American Humanist Assn. and the Center for Inquiry — are trying to change things. If they can’t persuade the state Legislature to rework the law, they plan to sue.
Jacobson, who spends most afternoons reading online or dining at a nearby buffet, is an admittedly reluctant plaintiff. But he’s willing to fight on principle, recalling one time he couldn’t: In the 1960s, the Army demanded that his dog tags note his religion. He reluctantly chose Judaism, which reflected his ancestry if not his beliefs.
“One of the things I like to do is stand up and say I’m a nonbeliever, so you know you’re not alone,” he said recently.
For years Mel Lipman, a friend of Jacobson’s and president of the American Humanist Assn., had presided over nonreligious weddings in Las Vegas. But he belonged to the Humanist Society, a secular branch of the Humanist Assn., whose tax status as a religious group satisfied the clerk’s requirements.
When Lipman and his wife moved to Florida this spring, Jacobson — a balding man with a thin, white mustache and a trace of his native Philadelphia in his voice — decided to become the local atheist celebrant.
“But I’m not going to do it by saying I belong to a religious organization,” he said. “That’s a sham, because atheists are not religious.”
Jacobson filled out an application to perform marriages, but sidestepped the questions on religion. County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre said she had little choice but to reject it.
As Nevada law requires, all of the county’s 2,500 or so licensed officiants are connected to a congregation — though some are as small as two people, Parraguirre said. (Judges and commissioners of civil marriages can also lead ceremonies.)
Some of the state’s regulations hark back to the 1960s, when ministers were dumping their flocks to become wealthy “Marrying Sams,” according to the book “Las Vegas: An Unconventional History.” One would-be officiant apparently hoped to marry enough people to finance his divorce.
Lawmakers, trying to ferret out the profit-hungry, said weddings must be among a minister’s “incidental” duties. Drive past the string of neon-lighted downtown chapels, and you’ll see that didn’t quite pan out.
Good thing we still live in a theocracy. Judge denies two atheists the right to adopt – because they didn’t believe in God.
After six years of childless marriage, John and Cynthia Burke of Newark decided to adopt a baby boy through a state agency. Since the Burkes were young, scandal-free and solvent, they had no trouble with the New Jersey Bureau of Children’s Servicesâ€”until investigators came to the line on the application that asked for the couple’s religious affiliation.
John Burke, an atheist, and his wife, a pantheist, had left the line blank. As a result, the bureau denied the Burkes’ application. After the couple began court action, however, the bureau changed its regulations, and the couple was able to adopt a baby boy from the Children’s Aid and Adoption Society in East Orange.
Last year the Burkes presented their adopted son, David, now 31, with a baby sister, Eleanor Katherine, now 17 months, whom they acquired from the same East Orange agency. Since the agency endorsed the adoption, the required final approval by a judge was expected to be pro forma. Instead, Superior Court Judge William Camarata raised the religious issue.
Inestimable Privilege. In an extraordinary decision, Judge Camarata denied the Burkes’ right to the child because of their lack of belief in a Supreme Being. Despite the Burkes’ “high moral and ethical standards,” he said, the New Jersey state constitution declares that “no person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience.” Despite Eleanor Katherine’s tender years, he continued, “the child should have the freedom to worship as she sees fit, and not be influenced by prospective parents who do not believe in a Supreme Being.”