Find a Secular Celebrant

March 2, 2010    

Why a CFI Secular Celebrant Program?

Persons who are not affiliated with any religion constitute 16% of the US population.  Unfortunately, the choice of persons to conduct ceremonies for marriages, same sex commitments, memorials, and other rites of passage is usually between religious clergy and civil officials.

For a nonreligious person this can be a traumatic experience.  They may be required to go through religious counseling and/or have religious references in their ceremony.  They may be prevented from having their choice of music or readings as part of the ceremony.  The local minister called on to conduct a funeral/memorial may preach a “come to Jesus” sermon or otherwise use religious references that are not in keeping with the worldview of the person being memorialized.  Many of us have seen this done. 

Additionally, civil officials are usually not available to do marriage ceremonies at the place and time of the couple’s choosing, but only in a government setting such as an office or the courthouse.  Furthermore, these officials are typically personally unknown to the couple.  Wedding ceremonies, memorials, and other life passages are extremely important events - they are life’s milestones - and people should be able to have these ceremonies conducted in a manner and by a person of their choosing.

While some people of the secular worldview do not see a need for rituals and ceremonies of any kind, many feel that having a way of marking life passages is important.  CFI feels that this is a personal choice and that secular ceremonies - and persons to conduct these ceremonies - should be available to those who want them.


The Center for Inquiry has created a Secular Celebrant Program to train and certify secular celebrants to perform weddings, memorials, and other "milestones of life" ceremonies.

How to Get Certified as a CFI Secular Celebrant and Be Listed in the CFI Celebrant Directory


  1. Be a CFI Friend of the Center (a member of CFI).
  2. Attend a CFI Secular Celebrant training.
  3. Present a letter of recommendation from local CFI director or branch leader.  If there is no local branch, two letters of recommendation are required: one from a previous employer and one from another person who is not a relative.
  4. Submit an essay describing your worldview.
  5. Be interviewed in person or by phone by the Co-Directors of the CFI Secular Celebrant Program (currently, Reba Boyd Wooden and Jim Underdown).
  6. Approval of a CFI Transnational representative.
  7. Pay an initial and yearly fee of $49.

Once you are certified by CFI, your information will be listed in CFI's Secular Celebrant Directory, which will be available publicly for people searching for secular celebrants in their area.  You may set your own fees, do additional advertising on your own, etc.


CFI is not a religious organization, so the management of CFI does not allow anyone acting as a CFI Secular Celebrant to solemnize a marriage under any religious designation or pretense, or using the certification of any religious organization.  This includes but is not limited to The Humanist Society, The Ethical Union, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, traditional religions, and so called “mail order” ordinations such as the Universal Life Church.  Accordingly, people who conduct marriage ceremonies as CFI Secular Celebrants cannot solemnize a marriage (i.e, cannot sign a marriage license) unless they are also certified by their state to solemnize a marriage under a civil, secular designation, such as "notary."  If the CFI Secular Celebrant does not have a civil license to solemnize marriages, couples will need to find an individual licensed by the state to legally sign the marriage license, either a civil official or a religious leader.

What this Certification Qualifies You to Do

  1. Anyone may "officiate" at a marriage ceremony.  However, only those authorized by an individual state may “solemnize” the marriage, that is legally sign the marriage license.  ( Click here to see the marriage laws in your state.)  In all states, only religious leaders or civil officials may "solemnize" a marriage.  Since the Center for Inquiry is not a religious organization, your CFI certification will not qualify you to solemnize a marriage in any of the states.  Some states have ways of getting around this such as the couple themselves, being deputized for a day, or being a notary.  Regardless of this, some couples still want a ceremony conducted by someone who has an official title as representing a secular organization and are willing to get the license signed (solemnized) later by an appropriate official.  Remember, however, that the management of CFI does not allow anyone acting on behalf of CFI to solemnize a marriage under any religious designation or under the certification of any religious organization.
  2. Same-sex commitment ceremonies do not hold legal status in most states.  Therefore, anyone can officiate at a same-sex commitment ceremony.  Again, the couple may prefer it be someone with an official title and certification.  In states that legally recognize same-sex marriage, it is presumed that the laws that apply to traditional marriage would also apply, i.e., only a religious leader or civil official may solemnize the marriage.  So, like a traditional marriage, a secular celebrant may officiate at the ceremony, but the couple will need to get the marriage license signed later by an appropriate official.
  3. Anyone may officiate at a memorial (friend, family member for example).  However, the person/family may prefer to have someone with a formal title and association.  Unfortunately, their only choice is usually a member of the religious clergy who may not conduct the ceremony according to their wishes.  In such cases, the need for a secular celebrant is clear.
  4. Some parents may want a formal ceremony to welcome a child in lieu of the traditional religious ceremonies such as baptism.   A secular celebrant needs no legal status to do this.  However, having a formal certification may make the parents feel it is more official.