United Church of Christ files landmark lawsuit in North Carolina to protect First Amendment rights of clergy

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United Church of Christ files landmark lawsuit in North Carolina to protect First Amendment rights of clergy
Breaking News
Today, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit against Officials in the State of North Carolina, arguing that the state's marriage laws violate the First Amendment rights of clergy and the principle of "free exercise of religion."  

In what is believed to the first-ever lawsuit by a national Christian denomination challenging a state's marriage laws, the United Church of Christ hosted a press conference this morning at one of its local North Carolina churches shortly after filing the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, N.C.  

The State of North Carolina makes it a misdemeanor crime for clergy to officiate a marriage ceremony without determining whether the couple involved has a valid marriage license from the State.  For those United Church of Christ clergy interested in conducting a religious marriage ceremony for same-gender couples, these clergy could be subjected to up to 120 days of jail and/or probation and community service if found guilty, since North Carolina marriage laws define and regulate marriage as being between only a man and a woman.  As lead plaintiff in this lawsuit, the United Church of Christ asserts that these laws are unconstitutional and violate a minister's First Amendment rights.  

Amendment One and other marriage laws in North Carolina are the only laws in the country that not only limit a domestic legal union to a covenant between a man and woman, but also make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn't obtained a license. The UCC believes that this prohibition and penalties also apply to a minister performing a religious ceremony not intended to result in a legal marriage.  

This limitation on rights of ministers and others is in conflict with the UCC General Synod's "Equal Marriage Rights for All" resolution adopted in 2005. This resolution affirms "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage."

Stay tuned to Facebook, Twitter and United Church News for continuing coverage. And click here to view a message from the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
 
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