- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) - A group of atheists is suing Washington County for refusing to register an atheist to perform marriage ceremonies.

Atheists for Human Rights and Rodney Michael Rogers filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota. They claim the state law cited by the Washington County manager who refused the registration is unconstitutional because it violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees the equal protection of laws. The lawsuit also alleges the “content-based discrimination” violates freedom of speech.

“When the statute clearly permits recognition of a marriage celebrant whose religious credentials consist of nothing more than a $20 ‘ordination’ obtained from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster . the requirement is absolutely meaningless in terms of ensuring the qualifications of a marriage celebrant,” said Randall Tigue, a Golden Valley attorney who supports AFHR.

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare both the state law and the county’s policy unconstitutional, the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1t8wnw5 ) reported. It also asks the court to issue a permanent injunction regarding marriage celebrants with atheistic beliefs.

Washington County employees are required to follow state law, according to attorneys representing the county. The complaint doesn’t include any accusations that the county misinterpreted state law, said Rick Hodsdon, an assistant county attorney.

“This is an orchestrated effort to use Washington County as a test case,” Hodsdon said Thursday.

The certificate of ordination belonging to an AFHR representative was revoked three days after he was granted the ability to perform marriage ceremonies at the county government building. He received an email on April 18 saying the filing was revoked because “you are a member of an atheist organization.”

AFHR representatives have registered in several other Minnesota counties and haven’t had their credentials revoked, according to Tigue.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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