Friends of Padre Steve’s World
Thomas Jefferson so eloquently and correctly observed, “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” It appears that we have some Christians stooping to that “lowest grade of ignorance” which Jefferson noted.
I have been holding back on the case of Kim Davis, the Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky who has strenuously refused to issue marriage licenses of Gay couples based on her “strongly held” or “sincere” religious beliefs. After the rule went into effect she has refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone in her county, citing fairness. Personally when this started I thought this was a publicity stunt by the Christian Right, and especially her lawyer, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, the legal activist wing of Liberty University and that it would blow over in a few days.
But then forgot just what a self-righteous bigot and extremist that Staver is when it comes to this issue. He has made a fortune demonizing gays over the years and his words are always extreme, polarizing, and play to the basest prejudices of his audience; angry, politically charged conservative Christians. Yes, in some ways this is still a publicity stunt, because Staver and others like him are using Davis, a woman who according to what Jesus said is an adulteress, having been married four times and divorced three, to make a profit and her a martyr for their cause.
So I was wrong and the circus continues. Davis disobeyed orders from the Governor and Attorney General of Kentucky to comply with the law; she has lost in every court including the entire U.S. Supreme Court. Interestingly enough the conservative Supreme Court Justices who were in the minority in the Obergfell v. Hodges case which legalized Marriage Equality; Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas, refused to hear her case and summarily dismissed her appeal. But she still continues.
Today, after the Supreme Court ruling Davis still refuses to obey the law and do the job that by law, and the dictates and responsibilities of the government office she occupies that she is supposed to do. Citing “God’s authority” for her refusal, Davis has again refused to issue marriage licenses. The fact is that she is denying the rights of every couple in Rowan County to a marriage license is of no concern. The fact that if you swear an oath as a public official to uphold the law, likewise, is of no concern to her. All that matters are her rights, not the people she swore an oath to serve, not the law.
It is being framed by Davis, Staver and their allies as s test of religious liberty, in that Mrs. Davis cannot in good conscience issue a marriage license to a Gay couple because it violates her religious beliefs. I do not disregard those beliefs, I defend the beliefs of people like Mrs. Davis on a daily basis. I do not agree with her but I agree that she can believe whatever she wants. But there is an important caviot to this, Mrs. Davis is not a private citizen. She is an officer of the government who has certain legal responsibilities, among them issuing marriage licenses to eligible people in Rowan County, Kentucky. She took an oath to carry out the laws of the State of Kentucky, and she is not doing that. If she does not to comply she needs to resign or face the legal consequences of her actions. No officer of the government at any level gets to chose what laws they will obey and which they will not. Her actions violate the 14th Amendment rights of all her citizens, as such they are unconstitutional. This is not like abortion where many medical professionals can opt out of based on a conscience clause. In those cases those physicians refer to others. In this case, which is qualitatively different that abortion, in that it does not involve life or potential life, Mrs. Davis gives the people of her county no option. She is the only one who can issue these licenses and she refuses to do so.
The reality is that no one is forcing Mrs. Davis to change her opinion on Gay marriage. She can do that as a private citizen and in her church, but she cannot use her beliefs to deny the legal rights of others. To allow her to do so would set a dangerous precedent, but it seems neither Davis, her lawyers, or many conservative Christian state and local politicians and activists understand this. Once you set the precedent that a public official can use their religious rights to deny the rights of others you open Pandora’s Box. Our founders understood, that, James Madison correctly observed, “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”
Can you imagine what Staver’s reaction if a fundamentalist Moslem County clerk decided to not issue a marriage license to a Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or an unbeliever of any kind? You can bet that he would not be defending that Moslem’s right to disobey the law. Instead, he would be apoplectic and claiming that the Moslems were attempting to impose Sharia on non-Moslems would be demanding that the official comply with the law or go to jail.
What if an Orthodox Jewish elected official refused to work alongside or in the same office as a Christian woman? Would Staver defend him? I think not.
But that is the problem here. Davis and so many others like her believe that their sincerely held beliefs trump the law, and their sworn duty as public officials. My friends, to allow that is to open the way for a theocracy, where in the name of God and the church, the rights of non-believers are disregarded. Sadly, it goes beyond simply refusing rights, but it ends up in religious tyranny and persecution; “witch trials,” the killing of “heretics and unbelievers.” In fact as far as Gays are concerned, there are militant Christian proponents of theocracy in this country who openly state that Gays should be killed, and they are not limited to the fringe of the late Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Some of them are frequent speakers at Republican campaign rallies, Tea Party events and court major conservative political leaders and candidates for office.
Barry Goldwater of all people warned us about them as early as 1981, “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
As much as we want to believe differently, we are not nearly as civilized or tolerant as we claim to be; and the words in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” only apply to a certain in group; in Davis’ and Staver’s case, Christians. All others, especially Gays, need not apply. Believe me, while people like Davis and Staver are a minority they are benign. Their words and their actions demonstrate that. Like the Nazis of the 1920s they claim to be the victims and decry laws that do not allow them to discriminate. Should they ever gain the reins of power, or more likely, succeed in carving out exemptions in the law that allow them to discriminate against others based on their personal, strongly held religious beliefs; they will become tyrannical, and Davis, even without a shred of law to back her up is behaving as a tyrant, and being applauded by many so-called Christians.
That is something to ponder.