How Separate is Separate? A Fairfax County Ruling and the Separation of Church and State

Posted on Apr 08, 2013

On April 1, The Washington Post reported on Fairfax County Judge Dennis J. Smith’s court ruling, which would put Virginia state law in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

 

Four Sikh men seeking to officiate marriage ceremonies for their congregations would supposedly be in violation of Virginia State Law, which states that non-ordained ministers must post a $500 bond for its marriage celebrant to officiate, and that a non-ordained clergy may have no more than one marriage celebrant. 

 

The four officiates on trial for challenging this law practice the religion of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in 15th century South Asia. Currently, the religion is non-hierarchical and does not have an ordained clergy.

    

Circuit Court Chief Judge Smith’s ruling gives rise to the relevancy ‘the separation of church and state’ has on today’s legal system. Every day, family law court hearings on the subjects of domestic violence, child custody battles and divorce are all situations with the potential to be religiously complicated:

 

 In which religious environment will the child be brought up?

 Does religion play into these claims of domestic violence?

Was this a civil dispute or was it an act of religious coercion?

How does his and her religions affect separation, spousal support and remarriage?

 

These are questions that come up daily, and the answers can mean the difference between your case going in one direction or the other. 

    

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” One of our nation’s founding fathers, Jefferson’s words still take precedence in the civil process today, and is an important aspect of Judge Smith’s ruling. 

 

It is impossible to fully separate church and state, and especially so in family law, where religious and legal matters coexist. That is why it is so important to have a Virginia attorney at your side providing you with the legal strength and support that you need. Call (804) 325-1245 to schedule your personalized legal consultation with one of our Virginia family law attorneys.

 

Disclaimer: Please note every case is different, therefore, this article should not be construed as legal advice or replace an attorney-client relationship.