Despite the oncoming start of the college and professional football seasons the biggest story in the news this past week was the jailing of Rowan County Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue not just same-sex marriage licenses but any marriage licenses. Davis has a deep seated religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman and hoped to avoid any charges of discrimination by refusing to issue any marriage licenses. Davis was not charged with a crime by the police or convicted by a jury of her peers. She was placed in jail by Judge David L. Bunning of the United States District Court for contempt by refusing his order to either issue marriage licenses or allow her deputies to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Davis is an elected official (making $80,000 a year) and can’t be fired for refusing to issue marriage licenses. Maybe since she has been married four times up to the present time she wishes someone had refused to issue her a marriage license once or twice or possibly three times. I think Judge Bunning thought that Davis would surely bend to his will by threatening jail time instead of a fine but he has misjudged Davis’s resolve and also misjudged the firestorm caused by the viral images of the innocent looking Davis’ mugshot. Davis has instantly become a conservative icon for her refusal to compromise her religious beliefs and I’m sure that there are book deals and speaking engagements in her future.
The thing I’m noticing about this incident is how partisan the reactions are. Here’s a quote from presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s Facebook page “Having Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubt of the criminalization of Christianity in our country. We must defend religious liberty and never surrender to judicial tyranny.” A rebuttal comment on Huckabee’s facebook page is “Religious liberty doesn't give someone the power to deny others their basic legal rights. Discrimination is discrimination….Kim Davis isn't in jail because of her values or beliefs but because she broke the law. This isn't persecution; it's justice.”
Many of the comments and commentary are tilted to either one side or the other on this issue with the overriding factor not being the merits of the case but the underlying beliefs. I don't think I've heard what I consider the real reason Davis is spending Labor Day behind bars.
Could you imagine an entire town not being able to buy pork? What if a religious Muslim was in charge of renewing food licenses and felt it was their religious duty to prevent unclean meat from being sold in town. I suppose he could also be jailed by a judge and hopefully a religious Jain wouldn’t take on the duties because then beef, fish, and chicken would also be off the table since a tenet of Jainism is that vegetarianism is mandatory for everyone. I’d hate to live in the town with an Amish building inspector who refuses to issue occupancy permits for buildings with electricity and running water. The movie industry could be erased if the California Film Commission were ever run by a member of one of the many flavors of religions that has a strict interpretation of idolatry.
I don’t see how Davis’s religious liberty is being taken away. No one is making her participate in a same-sex marriage or telling her she has worship something or someone she chooses not to. She chose to run for county clerk and if part of the county clerk duties is to issue marriage licenses then she should either do it or take the compromise offered by the judge to let other members of her department issue the licenses. She is exercising her religious liberty by choosing to go to jail over her religious beliefs. Federal law makes allowances for workers to avoid tasks that they have religious objections to as long as the tasks can reasonably be carried out by someone else in the organization. Davis is preventing the tasks she objects to from being carried out at all.
Davis and the people who are advocating so strenuously on her behalf are not defending religious liberty – they are defending Christian religious liberty and even then they are only defending Christian religious liberty in their flavor of Christian religious liberty (I’m taking the liberty of assuming at least some of the same-sex marriage recipients were married in a church that claims to be Christian in some way, shape, or form). I wonder if her defenders were at the forefront of France’s ban on headscarves in public schools.
Now that I’ve had my turn at the Davis piñata, let’s look at things from the other side. It is not unreasonable to assume that there are few if no consequences for breaking laws or court orders? According to Federal Law, possession or use of marijuana is a federal offense. Yet there are four states that allow the sale and use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. In these four states there are tens of thousands of federal crimes being committed every day and every day there are tens of thousands of federal crimes not being investigated or prosecuted. At least 11 million undocumented aliens/illegal immigrants/pick your buzzword live in the United States illegally and instead of making sure that they are deported to the countries where they hold citizenship, lawmakers attempt to provide paths to citizenship and avenues to receive government benefits while business owners are silent as they profit from the use of cheap labor. When I drive to work there is not one car in ten that is obeying the posted speed limits. I’m included in this speeding group and complain for weeks when I get my semiannual speeding ticket but you will never hear a cry from me for stricter traffic enforcement. It shouldn’t be a surprise that no one has ever been held accountable for the economic meltdown of 2008 since so few people are ever held accountable for breaking the laws of the country. In my opinion, Kim Davis is definitely an outlier for being in jail for failing to follow a court order.
One of the few times I can remember a large group being held accountable for their actions was when the air traffic controllers union went on strike in 1981. The strike was prohibited by a 1955 law. President Reagan gave the union two days to return to work and fired the controllers that didn’t return to work. Reagan also imposed a life time ban on rehiring the strikers. I never hear Republicans bring this up when they complain about President Obama’s executive orders. Even 35 years ago most people were shocked that the air traffic controllers were fired for their actions. Some of the fired air traffic controllers ended up working in the factory where I was working at the time and I remember how numb they seemed to be over losing their careers.
There is strength in numbers and Davis’s big problem is she doesn’t have the numbers on her side. There were only 11,000 air traffic controllers and they had to pay the consequences of their actions while 11 million undocumented aliens/illegal immigrants/pick your buzzword and four states worth of marijuana users break the laws regularly with little to no consequences while ticketing every speeder would bankrupt the country. If Davis had the public backing she currently enjoys before her court hearing she wouldn't have spent a minute in jail but having none of it beforehand landed her in her current predicament.She was not jailed for her Christianity or her religious beliefs - she was jailed because she is a lone wolf in a country that placates mobs of like minded thought.