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The Ethics of a Secular Celebrant

25thMar Compass

Featured image by Walt Stoneburner (flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Recently, I’ve had some unpleasant interactions with people who thought that they ought to make assumptions about what I ethically support as a secular celebrant. (I don’t consider these interactions to be particularly helpful, so I’m not linking to or mentioning them in detail here.) So even though I’ve spelled out my philosophy for becoming a secular celebrant, I thought it would be worthwhile to mention what I think are some ethical questions unique to secular celebrants.


Secular celebrants must be honest about what they are able to offer. In most states, this means disclosing that secular celebrants (except for those who are Humanist Celebrants) are not able to solemnize marriages, which necessitates further steps for a couple. It also means being perfectly clear that the ceremony in question might contain elements also found in religious ceremonies but that it will not be religious in nature and in particular that it will exclude discussion of the supernatural as well as any kind of religious practice such as prayer.


Part of being a secular celebrant with CFI is the requirement not to perform marriages under a religious designation, despite that making it possible to solemnize a marriage in every state in the US. It would be the easy way out to arrange a simple ordination to eliminate that single hurdle – for instance, I could in all likelihood legally solemnize a marriage in the state of Illinois using an ordination I did as a joke years ago with the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, but that would be a violation of the agreement I made with CFI. Principle and integrity must trump expediency.


If someone wants a non-religious service, then I feel strongly that they ought to have it without any sort of discrimination by gender, religion, sexual orientation, race, physical ability, or any other such condition. (This is of course does not mean that any content would be welcome in such a ceremony; that sort of discrimination is both necessary and beneficial.)


Not only does anyone who wants such a service deserve access to it, they also deserve compassion and empathy, especially if the event is particularly emotional, as with a funeral. As such, a secular celebrant must balance the desire of an individual or couple to have a secular ceremony with the understanding that not everyone involved may be non-religious or may even be on board with the idea of a secular ceremony. With a memorial service, those who employ a secular celebrant will likely not be the only ones to grieve, and the others who grieve, who are statistically likely to contain some religious people, should be able to do so without being accosted for their religious views. I won’t pretend this is an easy balance, and religious people who are more vocal in asserting their views will of course be more likely to be upset when, for instance, their loved one’s ceremony doesn’t include any discussion of them in the afterlife. At the same time, though, secular celebrants should caution against the inclusion of material that goes too far against the grain in ways that are virtually certain to offend the grieving religious.

Those are just a handful of the ethical considerations of a secular celebrant. What would you add to the list? Give your answers in comments.

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About Galen
Galen is a certified Secular Celebrant with the Center for Inquiry (CFI). The views expressed on this site do not necessarily represent those of CFI. (For more information about Galen, click here.)
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