Saturday, September 5, 2015

Establishment of Religion, Again

Kim Davis, the elected county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of court orders going all the way up to the US Supreme Court.  She has been jailed for contempt of court.

In her absence, several gay couples have received marriage licenses issued by her deputies, which Davis claims are null and void because they don't bear her signature.  When offered a chance to be released from confinement on the condition that she not interfere with the issuance of licenses, she refused.

Kim Davis calls herself a born-again Christian, and believes that marriage should be between one man and one woman.  She is currently in her fourth marriage.  If Davis' reasoning is correct, perhaps the clerk who issued her fourth marriage license should have refused, on the same grounds used by Davis.

When elected to office, Davis took the oath of office, which includes the sworn promise that she would uphold the federal and state constitutions and laws.  Davis claims that she is not under any obligation to violate the moral law of God, because she finished her oath with the words "So help me God."  It is worth noting that those words are not part of the official oath, but are often added voluntarily by office holders.  In any case, by ending the oath with that phrase, there is no implication that the office holder has the right or responsibility to violate the law.  It is merely an affirmation to God that the state and federal laws will be upheld.  It does not include any words to the effect that God's moral law takes precedence over civil law.  And most people would not interpret it that way.

Of course, reasoning is not Davis' strong point.  Religious belief often interferes with the reasoning process.  Religious people seem to feel that their constitutional right to practice their own religion overrides any constitutional rights claimed by others.  It is understandable to some degree that when constitutional rights between different parties conflict, there may not be clear rules of precedence (other than rulings of the courts, which don't always completely resolve th issue because they are narrowly tailored for a particular situation). 

But beyond the question of resolving the precedence of constitutional rights of citizens, there is little or no question that government officials who are sworn to uphold the law are responsible to carry out their legal duties as prescribed by law.  Just as a sheriff must enforce the law, even if he disagrees with it, Davis' religious reasoning does not exempt her from upholding the law, either.

As an elected official, Davis can't be fired from her position as county clerk.  If she feels that upholding the law amounts to a violation of her religious beliefs, she should take the honorable path and resign from office.  Davis has no intention of resigning.  So this is not simply a case of an individual who ought to leave her position of authority due to her unwillingness to uphold the law.  This is a case of an individual who insists on using her position of authority to impose her own religious beliefs upon others, even if they are in violation of the law.  This is unconscionable.  Davis should be impeached.