The Confusing Case of the Kentucky County Clerk

Kimberly Davis (Carter County Detention Center)
Kimberly Davis (Carter County Detention Center) (photo: Screenshot)

Yes, Kim Davis Is a Hero. No, Kim Davis Is Shirking Her Responsibilities. Both viewpoints have been well presented in the media; but who's right? Should the Kentucky county clerk be forced to choose between her job and her faith?

Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk who has consistently refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was jailed on September 3 for contempt of court. In explaining his decision, Judge David L. Bunning, who had originally ruled that she must comply with the state's policy accepting same-sex marriage, said that simply imposing a fine would be insufficient to prevent others from similarly refusing to enforce the law. Davis was remanded to Carter County Detention Center where she will, according to reports, be held until she reverses her position, abandons her faith, and agrees to issue marriage licenses for homosexual couples.

That the story has lingered near the top of news sites this week, with credible voices on both sides of the issue, points to its importance as a harbinger—predicting the direction our nation will take as individual liberties come into conflict with public policy.

The Religious Liberty Viewpoint

Some “religious liberty” defenders, among them presidential contender Senator Ted Cruz, side with Ms. Davis, insisting that she should not be forced to disobey God's law and her own conscience. Senator Cruz (R-TX) said in a statement:

Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America.

I stand with Kim Davis. Unequivocally. I stand with every American that the Obama Administration is trying to force to chose between honoring his or her faith or complying with a lawless court decision.

In dissent, Chief Justice Roberts rightly observed that the Court’s marriage decision has nothing to do with the Constitution. Justice Scalia observed that the Court’s decision was so contrary to law that state and local officials would choose to defy it.

For every politician — Democrat and Republican — who is tut-tutting that Davis must resign, they are defending a hypocritical standard. Where is the call for the mayor of San Francisco to resign for creating a sanctuary city — resulting in the murder of American citizens by criminal illegal aliens welcomed by his lawlessness?

Where is the call for President Obama to resign for ignoring and defying our immigration laws, our welfare reform laws, and even his own Obamacare?

When the mayor of San Francisco and President Obama resign, then we can talk about Kim Davis.

Those who are persecuting Kim Davis believe that Christians should not serve in public office. That is the consequence of their position. Or, if Christians do serve in pubic office, they must disregard their religious faith–or be sent to jail.

Kim Davis should not be in jail. We are a country founded on Judeo-Christian values, founded by those fleeing religious oppression and seeking a land where we could worship God and live according to our faith, without being imprisoned for doing so.

I call upon every Believer, every Constitutionalist, every lover of liberty to stand with Kim Davis. Stop the persecution now.

The “Legislative Authority” Viewpoint

On the other hand, there are those who agree that the county clerk must, as an officer of the state, abide by and enforce the laws of her state—whether or not she personally agrees. Apparently among that constituency is Justice Antonin Scalia, whose 2002 article in First Things is quoted at length in Wednesday's Washington Post:

Scalia explained that if he were to conclude that the death penalty is fundamentally immoral, he should no longer serve on the bench.

“While my views on the morality of the death penalty have nothing to do with how I vote as a judge, they have a lot to do with whether I can or should be a judge at all. To put the point in the blunt terms employed by Justice Harold Blackmun towards the end of his career on the bench, when he announced that he would henceforth vote (as Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall had previously done) to overturn all death sentences, when I sit on a Court that reviews and affirms capital convictions, I am part of “the machinery of death.” My vote, when joined with at least four others, is, in most cases, the last step that permits an execution to proceed. I could not take part in that process if I believed what was being done to be immoral….

“In my view the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted, constitutional laws and sabotaging death penalty cases. He has, after all, taken an oath to apply the laws and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own. Of course if he feels strongly enough he can go beyond mere resignation and lead a political campaign to abolish the death penalty” and if that fails, lead a revolution. But rewrite the laws he cannot do.”

But which perspective is correct? It seems a strong case can be made for either.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stopped short of endorsing either position, instead laying out both perspectives for reporters during a campaign stop in New Hampshire. “I have real concerns,” the candidate said, “about ensuring that religious liberty is protected in this country. I've also said that people who are in government jobs need to do their jobs.”

Some are convinced that Kim Davis, as a public employee charged with implementing the law, should resign while making clear her reasons for personally opposing the court. They see an important difference between protecting the constitutional rights of, say, a Christian baker or florist or photographer, and charging government employees with safeguarding and implementing the law.

Others, believing that Kim Davis should be freed, cite concerns about what they consider to be judicial overreach. The Supreme Court erred, they say, in legalizing same-sex marriage—an action which should have remained within the purview of the federal or state legislature. Therefore, Ms. Davis should not be required to enforce this unjust law.

What do YOU think?