October 2019 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

A large online church has filed a federal lawsuit against an official in a North Carolina county who won’t allow its clergy to perform marriages.

The Universal Life Church (ULC), a denomination based in Seattle that ordains people online, sued Cleveland County Register of Deeds Betsy S. Harnage in August after Harnage refused to issue marriage licenses to couples whose ceremonies were conducted by ULC ministers.

North Carolina law states that marriages may be performed by “an ordained minister of any religious denomination, a minister authorized by a church, or a magistrate.” In its Universal Life Church Monastery Storehouse v. Harnage lawsuit, the ULC asserts that Harnage’s “policy is to prefer and grant a benefit to certain religions while withholding that same preference or benefit from ULC Monastery and its ministers.”

The lawsuit adds, “No compelling governmental interest supports Defendant’s discrimination against ULC Monastery ministers or the policy of recognizing ordinations from some religions but not others.”

The ULC has filed similar lawsuits in Nevada and Tennessee. On its website, the group describes itself as “a non-denominational spiritual organization that opens its doors to anyone seeking to get ordained.”