Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I officiate at a lot of weddings. Many of those ceremonies are between a Jewish partner and a partner of a different background. Some ceremonies are more traditional, more religious, and some are less. I always tell couples that the ceremony we create together should be a reflection of who they are, and it should feel authentic to them.
I was disappointed to read in the news about an interfaith couple who was denied having their wedding at an inn in Illinois. The issue was that the interfaith couple, Jonathan Webber and Alexandra Katzman, wanted a non-religious ceremony. While they had indicated this in their initial paperwork when they made the deposit for their wedding day, the inn did not say anything at the time and still cashed their deposit. It was only months later when they returned to finalize details for their wedding that they learned that the owner of the inn, David Anderson, would not allow them to have a non-religious ceremony there.
Mr. Anderson was only willing to perform a Christian wedding, despite the fact that the bride said she was Jewish and this would be uncomfortable for her and her family. Mr. Anderson insisted that only he could perform the ceremony – and he refused to exclude scriptural readings that had references to Jesus Christ throughout.
While Mr. Anderson refunded the couple’s deposit at the time, the couple was left without a wedding venue six months prior to their wedding. (And as someone who is currently planning her own wedding at this time, I can only imagine how stressful that would be!). But, mostly what is so upsetting is that this couple was discriminated against based on their religious beliefs.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has stepped in to help this couple. The ACLU of Illinois’ senior staff attorney has said, “as a public business, open to all, the Inn cannot impose religious requirements on my clients or others, especially not at their own wedding.”
While I am not a lawyer and don’t understand the legalities of this situation, I know this: The couple was just asking to have a ceremony that reflected their values and was comfortable for them and their families. I believe they are entitled to this. And, I can’t imagine why Mr. Anderson thinks he has a right to determine what is said at someone else’s wedding ceremony.
Maybe Mr. Anderson should switch jobs and become a Christian wedding officiant – rather than an inn owner.