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Published: Tuesday, Jun. 14th, 2022

Good news for online-ordained ministers in Tennessee as ongoing lawsuit continues

After years of delays with the ongoing lawsuit to protect the rights of online-ordained ministers and overturn an anti-ordination law that was passed (and temporarily suspended) in Tennessee in 2019, we’re happy to announce there’s some good news! 

 

And a few reasons to continue paying close attention…

 

On May 27th, a three-judge panel decided that the case against the district attorneys in several counties, as well as the Putnam County Clerk who denied marriage licenses to couples because of a minister’s online ordination status, can proceed. 

 

This is great news! 

 

However, the claims against state officials, including Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, were dismissed, limiting the scope of the case. 

 

 

What does this mean? 

 

This means that the lawsuit against the state’s anti-ordination law will continue moving forward, and that the rights of online-ordained ministers in Tennessee remain protected per Judge Crenshaw’s suspension of the law pending the resolution of this case. 

 

But there’s still work to be done as the case continues to be debated. AMM will pay close attention as these ongoing discussions continue, engage whenever necessary, and update you as things unfold. 

 

 

A quick history of the lawsuit: 

 

In 2019, Tennessee lawmakers passed an unconstitutional law prohibiting online-ordained ministers from solemnizing marriage in the state. 

 

The law was quickly challenged and temporarily suspended by a federal judge. American Marriage Ministries acted quickly, leading a multi-city in person ordination tour to safeguard our minister’s standing in the state. Our efforts drew national attention to the matter, and clearly framed the importance of online ordination and minister rights. 

 

Shortly thereafter, Universal Life Church Monastery Storehouse and several of its ministers filed a federal lawsuit against multiple state and county officials – this is the ongoing lawsuit mentioned above.
 
A federal judge suspended the law until the lawsuit against the state is decided. Judge Crenshaw's order makes Tennessee’s anti-ordination unenforceable, protecting the rights and religious freedoms of ministers there as the legal battle continues. 

 

 

Highlights from the most recent judges’ ruling:

 

In the opinion released by U.S. Circuit Judge John Bush on May 27th, he states that the plaintiff’s concerns that online-ordained ministers might be criminally prosecuted for making ‘false statements’ on marriage licenses are credible – an important factor in allowing the lawsuit to continue. In Tennessee, this threat comes with a Class E felony charge, and cannot be taken lightly.

 

In addition, the judges dismissed the Putnam County Clerk’s claims of sovereign immunity, allowing claims against him to continue. They found solid evidence that he denied marriage licenses to couples in the past because of a minister’s online ordination status, and might continue to do so in the future unless the lawsuit continues.

 

 

In the meantime, many of you are wondering: 

 

 

  • Can AMM Ministers still perform marriage in Tennessee?

 

Yes, online ordinations are still recognized in Tennessee, and AMM Ministers can still legally perform marriages in the state. The law is clear on this. 
 
Judge Crenshaw’s order to maintain the status quo and allow online-ordained ministers to continue to solemnize marriage remains in place until the case is decided.
 

 

  • What about reports of online-ordained ministers being turned away at county offices? 

 

Unfortunately, we've heard multiple reports of online-ordained officiants being turned away by county clerks, despite this being illegal.
 
We strongly recommend that you download a copy of Judge Crenshaw’s order, found here (click ‘Download this PDF’ at the top of the page), before filing a marriage license or meeting with a county clerk, to avoid any difficulties.
 
 

  • If you’re an AMM Minister in Tennessee and a couple whose wedding you intend to solemnize is denied a marriage license: 

 

Please contact us immediately if this happens, and we’ll send you a letter from our lawyers stating your rights as recognized ministers, which you or your couple can provide to the clerk in question. 
 
Again, we also strongly recommend that they bring a copy of Judge Crenshaw’s order, which you can download here. 
 
Contact American Marriage Ministries:


Email: [email protected]
Phone: 206-395-9164
Office Hours: Monday - Friday | 10am - 5pm PST

 

 

 

 

Online ordination is essential in the ongoing fight for marriage equality. 

 

LGBTQ+ and interracial couples continue to face frequent discrimination in Tennessee and across the country when applying for or filing marriage licenses, and when seeking ministers to marry them. 
 
Online ordination allows everyday heroes -- like you, and other open minded ministers and loving friends and family members -- to step up and honor the marriage rights of all couples.
 

 
We hope to return to Tennessee soon. Our visit in 2019 to perform ordinations in person was an incredible experience, and we look forward to more opportunities to connect with our ministers in person in the coming months and years. 
 
We’ll continue to update you on any developments in Tennessee. 


 
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