SACRAMENTO, Calif. --- After receiving a letter from attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute, Sacramento County has backed down from a requirement that people authorized to officiate at one marriage ceremony eliminate religious references.
Manuel Zamorano paid the $42 fee to get permission from Sacramento County to perform a wedding for a relative. To Zamorano's surprise, a counter clerk told him that he could not mention God during the ceremony. The instruction packet he received confirmed this restriction, stating, "You may use any ceremony of your choice as long as the ceremony does not have any religious connotations." Zamorano does not work for the County, and the ceremony was not conducted on County property.
Facing a conflict of conscience, Zamorano chose not to eliminate references to God from the planned wedding ceremony, which was held in April. Concerned about the County's stance and possible repercussions, he contacted Pacific Justice Institute. PJI Chief Counsel Kevin Snider wrote to the County in mid-April, warning that singling out religion for disfavor is unconstitutional. After deliberating for nearly six weeks, the County responded to PJI this week that "Deputy Commissioners of Civil Marriages for a day may use any wording of their choice or of the couple's choice..."
Manuel Zamorano commented, "The fact that I paid a $42 fee shouldn't mean that I surrender my free speech rights. I am thankful that the County has changed its position and now realizes it is okay to mention God and Jesus Christ at a wedding."
PJI President Brad Dacus added, "This is an extreme example of separation of church and state run amok. In reality, the First Amendment mandates that government cannot ban religious references while allowing other types of ceremonies."