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Here’s the Latest on What’s Happening with Tennessee’s Online Ordination Ban

Published Tuesday, Dec. 10th, 2019

Updated November 2020


Are you wondering what’s happening with the legal challenges to a law that prohibits ministers ordained online from officiating weddings in Tennessee? Here are the latest updates, and everything you need to know to be allowed to perform weddings in the state. But before we dig into the details, the bottom line is this: 


You can still perform weddings in Tennessee if you got ordained online.


We’ve heard that some county clerks in Tennessee are turning ministers away because they got ordained online. While these reports are isolated, it is important to remember that you are still legally allowed to perform weddings in Tennessee, even if you were ordained online. It's also important to remember that the law here is clear, and that the weddings are legally valid. 



Any county clerk denying ministers based on their online ordination is violating the order of a judge suspending the law until the matter is resolved in the courts.



If you are filing a marriage license or meeting with a county clerk, we highly recommend that you download a copy of the judge's order (click “Download PDF” button underneath the image of the document) and show it to them. The order clearly states that any enforcement of the amended statute is stayed by Judge Crenshaw.


Two orders issued by Judge Waverly Crenshaw require that the Status Quo be maintained. The orders state that "the STATUS QUO SHALL BE MAINTAINED and this SHALL CONTINUE until the Court issues a ruling after the trial." This is a legal term which forbids the enforcement of the new law until after a ruling on the merits of the case has been determined.


In other words, online ordination is still recognized in Tennessee until further notice.



American Marriage Ministries staff perform in person ordinations in Tennessee

Earlier this year, AMM travelled to Tennessee to provide in-person ordinations for online-ordained ministers impacted by Public Chapter 415.



The case is expected to take longer than initially anticipated. At one point, folks were talking about the matter being resolved as early as this December. Now, we expect this to last well into 2020. (Update March 2021: This case is still ongoing, and online ordination is still recognized in Tennessee.)


Here is a brief overview of the timeline we are currently looking at:

  • The State of Tennessee's Brief is due on December 22, 2019. That’s where the state makes their arguments. 
  • Then, the Universal Life Church Monastery Storehouse’s Brief is due January 22, 2020.
  • The state’s reply to that document will be due February 6, 2020. Basically, there’s still a lot of documentation that has to be created, filed, processed, responded and more. Once all of this is done, the court can make a ruling/schedule oral argument, etc. 
  • Our lawyers have told us that the 6th Circuit (where the case is now) will make their ruling; if the case is kicked back to the district court, a Trial will happen at a later date.



The Constitution is pretty clear about the state interfering in Church matters like ordination...



Additionally, in requesting more time to answer / respond / defend on multiple occasions, the State of Tennessee has argued that due to the Status Quo being maintained, there is no sense of urgency because no plaintiff can be harmed by the statute.


In other words, the state is in no rush to move this case quickly, and seems to be taking their time because the law has not changed and online ordination is still accepted in Tennessee. 


Our expectation remains that the law will ultimately be struck down due to its clear violation of the first amendment's prohibition of laws respecting an establishment of religion. In the meantime, our legal team is monitoring the situation closely, and we will continue to post updates here on American Weddings. 



Updated March 29, 2021


If you have any comments, questions, or want to support us in our efforts to defend marriage equality, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected]



Lewis King
Lewis King

Staff Writer

Lewis loves exploring the space between power, discourse, and material reality where institutions like marriage are defined. He also wears other hats at AMM, like taking out the recycling and restocking the sparkling water.

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