Lawsuit: Cleveland Co. clerk did not recognize online ordained minister

Lawsuit: Cleveland Co. clerk did not recognize online ordained minister

CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. — One of the biggest churches that ordains people online is suing the Cleveland County Register of Deeds.

Cleveland County officials didn’t know about the discrimination lawsuit until reporter Ken Lemon told them.

Content Continues Below

They said they were not aware of refusing a marriage license from Universal Life Church.

The suit doesn't list the particular situation, but the attorney for the Seattle-based, nondenominational church said it happened and they don't want it to happen again.

The Universal Life Church allows people to go online and within seconds become an ordained minister and perform weddings.

The chaplain of the Universal Life Church said the purpose of the church is to empower people.

"Spirituality belongs to the individual, not to the organized church," chaplain George Freeman said.

He said the right to officiate a wedding should not be bound by faith or training.

"Let's look at the two or 300 religions and gods that we have on the planet. Which one is the real god?" Freeman said.

He said an unnamed couple went to the register of deeds and was refused a marriage license because the minister had a license from Universal Life Church.

Following that, the Universal Life Church filed a suit in federal court.

"A message being sent to all the clerks in the United States," Freeman said.

Rachel Neal and her husband had a friend perform their 2017 pirate-themed wedding in Cleveland County.

Their minister was ordained online through Universal Life Church.

"They didn't give us no problem at the register of deeds," Neal said.

Workers at the register of deeds said they never ask for minister qualifications because it’s forbidden by state law.

Neal's minister said he performed other weddings in the county without an issue.

"I feel like if there are any problems, they would have gotten brought up sooner," Neal said.

The North Carolina guidebook for the register of deeds does mention refusing weddings by the church, but it appears to refer only to bigamy, which is illegal in this state.