Nevada Officials Drop Plan to License and Fingerprint Clergy

Affiliate: ACLU of Nevada
December 29, 2000 12:00 am

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Under pressure from local religious and civil rights leaders, Clark County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre said yesterday she is shelving new licensing regulations that would have required police background checks for ministers who perform marriages.

“I just put out these regulations last week, and I am amazed at the controversy it has created,” Parraguirre said, adding that she’ll ask the American Civil Liberties Union and religious leaders to join a panel to study the issue.

The ACLU of Nevada, which was the first organization to express opposition when the new regulations were announced last week, said it looks forward to working with county officials to address the constitutional questions surrounding the plan.

“I am always optimistic these particular committees will deal with the issues at hand and come to an appropriate conclusion,” said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada. “I am optimistic, too, that some bad laws that have been floating around the state for 50 years or so can be looked at.”

Parraguirre, a first-time county clerk, said she drew up the rules to identify convicted felons, who are banned by state law from practicing as ministers. The goal was to shield couples from fraud and to discourage ministers ordained through the Internet from practicing in Las Vegas, she said.

The ACLU of Nevada complained that Jesus Christ and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wouldn’t meet the new Clark County standard because they had been arrested.

Critics also said hospital and prison ministers might not meet a requirement to have a congregation of 20 people meeting weekly.

The Rev. Mujahid Ramadan, Islamic leader of the Masjid As-sabur mosque in Las Vegas, said establishing a committee was a logical approach. “It sounds like wisdom has prevailed,” Ramadan said.

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