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Religious Discrimination in Non-Denominational Wedding

Posted by Athena M. Herman | Jun 01, 2016 | 0 Comments

A few weeks ago, we wrote about a bed and breakfast that was fined for discriminating against a same-sex couple. The couple wanted the B&B to host their wedding, but the owners refused. Now, another Illinois inn is facing a complaint that they discriminated against a couple by refusing to host their non-denominational wedding.

A couple from Eau Claire, Wisconsin reached out to Bernadine's Stillman Inn in Galena as a venue for their wedding ceremony. Jonathan Webber is Christian, and Alexandra Katzman is Jewish. They wanted their wedding ceremony to be non-denominational. However, according to the couple, the owner of the inn, Dave Anderson, said the couple could not have a nonreligious wedding at the inn.

Webber and Katzman wanted their wedding to be non-denominational so that neither of their families would feel uncomfortable. They asked to have a family friend, who is a judge, perform the ceremony. However, Anderson said he did not want to have someone else perform the ceremony in the chapel, and would perform the ceremony himself. When asked about the ceremony, Anderson read the ceremony that referred to Jesus Christ several times.

Katzman said a Christian ceremony would make her Jewish family uncomfortable. Anderson allegedly replied that their wedding would not be “a good fit.” for the inn. Katzman and Webber had their wedding at another location, but now they have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the inn.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is representing the couple in their lawsuit. Senior staff attorney Rebecca Glenberg says the couple was discriminated against in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act. “It's pretty clear cut that the reason they were not allowed to hold their wedding at this inn is because they were not willing to have a Christian ceremony,” said Glenberg.

Under the Illinois Human Rights Act, individuals have right to be free from discrimination because of their religion. This applies to public accommodations such as hotels, motels and inns. “As a public business, open to all, the inn cannot impose religious requirements on my clients or on others,” said Glenberg.

Anderson's attorney disputes the charges. Phil Jensen, who is representing Anderson, called the complaint frivolous. “He never discriminated on the basis of religion,” said Jensen. He also said that the inn has hosted secular weddings in the past. Instead, Jensen said that the couple wanted to force Anderson to perform a civil wedding and restrict what he was able to say. “There's absolutely no law that compels someone to marry another and to tell them what they can and cannot say,” said Jensen.

Anderson told a local news agency, WGN-TV that he can only perform religious weddings because of a city rule. However, the city of Galena reportedly said that there was no such restriction.

Religious discrimination can affect people who want to have a non-religious wedding ceremony. If you have been discriminated against on the basis of religion, you should to speak to an experienced Illinois discrimination attorney. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve and equal treatment under the law.

About the Author

Athena M. Herman

Athena M. Herman practices in the areas of employment discrimination law, general employment law, and civil rights law...


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