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Group seeks humanist wedding in Naval Academy's main chapel

Jul. 31, 2013 - 05:47PM   |  
The American Humanist Association said it will consider taking legal action after the U.S. Naval Academy denied a request for a humanist wedding ceremony in the academy's main chapel (seen here).
The American Humanist Association said it will consider taking legal action after the U.S. Naval Academy denied a request for a humanist wedding ceremony in the academy's main chapel (seen here). (Naval Academy via Flickr)
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ANNAPOLIS, MD. — An attorney for the American Humanist Association said Tuesday the organization will consider taking legal action after the U.S. Naval Academy denied a request for a humanist wedding ceremony in the academy’s main chapel.

The group released a letter Tuesday describing a request to use the chapel by Ensign Sean Cruz, a 2012 graduate and an active duty naval officer. He applied in May to be married by a legally recognized wedding officiant in the chapel.

“It appears that he has been denied this request because the Naval Academy wishes to confer the benefit of the chapel’s beautiful architecture and capacious interior solely on Christians, to the exclusion of other religions and the nonreligious,” William Burgess and Monica Miller, legal consultants for the association, wrote in a letter to Vice Adm. Michael Miller, the academy’s superintendent, and Cmdr. Michael Gore, the senior chaplain.

Jennifer Erickson, an academy spokeswoman, said in an email that the Naval Academy Chapel is a religious venue that has been used for Protestant and Catholic services since its dedication in 1908.

“The chapel contains permanent Christian architectural features that make it inappropriate for non-Christian or non-religious wedding ceremonies,” Erickson wrote in response to questions about the request. “For requests involving non-Christian and non-religious wedding ceremonies, the Naval Academy offers alternative venues, such as the non-denominational chapel and the Naval Academy Club.”

But Burgess said the alternative venues do not have the same grandeur of the main chapel, whose large dome is a major part of the Maryland capital’s skyline. The chapel also stands on top of a crypt for John Paul Jones, who is known as the father of the U.S. Navy. Burgess said in an interview that he believes the policy is unconstitutional discrimination.

“These are publicly owned buildings at a publicly run university,” Burgess said.

The letter from the association also notes that Cruz was offered use of the All Faith’s Chapel instead of the main chapel. The letter notes it’s unclear why he would be offered to hold a civil ceremony in that chapel, which the chaplain’s center website describes as “a place of quiet simplicity for Orthodox and other Christians … to meet, pray, mediate and worship,” but not the main chapel. Cruz also was offered several other locations for the ceremony, including the basketball arena and a former armory, the letter noted.

Burgess said the Washington-based American Humanist Association, which was founded in 1941, will consider whether to file a lawsuit after talking with Cruz.

“That is at least a potentiality,” Burgess said, when asked whether the group would take legal action.

The American Humanist Association has more than 170 local chapters and affiliates across the United States, with more than 20,000 members. The organization describes humanism as a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms a responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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