Late last year, four Sikhs from Virginia challenged a state law (Virginia Code 20-23) that would have required them each to pay a $500 bond to be authorized by the state to perform the Sikh wedding ceremony because they were not ordained ministers. The issue, of course, is that the Sikh faith (like several others) does not have formal clergy or ordained ministers, and thus the law was discriminating against members of the Sikh faith.
The Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who supported the Sikh plaintiffs, has announced that the judge presiding over the case has agreed that the state law was discriminating on the basis of religion:
“According to the ruling, Virginia laws that impose special requirements on religions that do not have ordained ministers are unconstitutional.”
The Virginia state law was considered to be in violation of the First Amendment (right to free exercise of religion) and the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection under the law) of the US Constitution. Further, according to the ACLU, the Virginia law was unconstitutional in a second respect, as it mandated that “only one person from each congregation could be authorized to perform marriages, even though a church or synagogue could have two or more ordained ministers or rabbis who could perform marriages.”
Chief Judge Dennis J. Smith, of the Circuit Court of Fairfax County, issued court orders that the four Sikhs be permitted to preside over Sikh marriages without having to pay the $500 bond, though the discriminatory law has not been modified at this point.
Oh how I exult in the irony that this is the same state that was taken to the wood shed by the SCOTUS in Loving v. Virginia.