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Naval Academy denies humanist wedding in main chapel

The U.S. Naval Academy turned down a recent graduate's request to hold a "humanist" wedding in the main campus chapel because it was not a Christian ceremony, a move the American Humanist Association is calling unconstitutional.

Ensign Sean A. Cruz, a 2012 Naval Academy graduate, applied to hold his wedding in the historic chapel next year. A humanist celebrant, similar to a Christian minister, was set to officiate. Humanism is defined by its followers as a secular worldview that encourages ethical practices and contributions toward the greater good.

Naval Academy officials released a statement saying they would continue to work with Cruz to find a "fitting and commensurate venue" for his wedding.

"The Naval Academy Chapel is a religious venue used for Protestant and Catholic services since its dedication in 1908," the statement said. "The chapel contains permanent Christian architectural features that make it inappropriate for non-Christian or non-religious wedding ceremonies."

Bill Burgess, an attorney for the Washington D.C.-based American Humanist Association, argues that the Naval Academy cannot restrict weddings on religious grounds because the chapel is publicly-owned.

Burgess said Cruz submitted his application in April to hold the wedding in the main chapel and was told over the phone this month that his request was denied.

Cruz was offered the use of a separate, non-denominational chapel on the Naval Academy's Annapolis campus.

But Burgess said the main chapel is "where you would want to get married if you wanted to get married on campus."

"He doesn't want a second-class, somewhere-else ceremony, he wants the one he wants," he added.

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