It finally happened. On the morning of September 3, 2015, Federal Marshalls placed Kim Davis, the
Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples, under arrest for contempt of court. Davis had been refusing to issue licenses in her county for weeks, arguing that she shouldn’t be forced to issue licenses to same-sex couples because it violated her Christian faith. Her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, who turned down her ruling, and she was ordered by Judge David Bunning to continue issuing marriage licenses in accordance with both the law and her stated responsibilities as an agent of the state. After continuing to refuse to submit to Judge Bunning’s orders, Kim was finally arrested, removing her from her position as county clerk.
As soon as the news of Davis’s arrest broke, conservative Christians began referring to Davis as a “martyr”, claiming that her arrest crossed the line into persecution because of her Christian faith. As an evangelical myself, I want to suggest a different perspective than the one many of my other brothers and sisters have been offering. I believe that Kim Davis’s arrest is neither persecution or an impingement on her religious liberties. In fact, I believe her arrest actually strengthens religious liberty nation wide.
Religious Liberty is a concept that is based on the First Amendment of the Constitution which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” It is the fundamental principle that ensures that all Americans will be able to practice their religious convictions freely and openly without fear of government regulation or prohibition. It is also the principle that bolsters the idea of the separation of Church and State. While religious institutions are guaranteed protections against any government regulation or involvement in their religious life, the government is also protected from religious institutions attempt to garner political power over the nation. What this means is that anyone who functions as an agent of the state must remain religiously neutral, providing equal service, treatment, and rights to all people of all religious, ethical, social, and cultural backgrounds.
This separation is one of the fundamental pillars of American society. The Church will never overtake the government and the government will never overtake the Church. This is what our founding fathers fought for. This is what it means to be an American. And Kim Davis posed a great threat to the religious liberties of our nation by refusing to carry out her duties as an agent of the state, issuing marriage licenses to all couples, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. Davis forced her Christian faith on the people of Rowan County, and violated their right to be able to receive equal treatment from the government, regardless of their sexuality, race, religion, or values. If Davis was able to continue serving as the county clerk, she could, in theory, continue to refuse to grant marriages licenses or provide services to everyone she disagrees with, which would, in effect, completely dissolve the religious freedoms of the people in her county.
For those who struggle to see my point, think of this in another situation. What if Kim Davis believed, based on her religious convictions, that guns should be outlawed. And because of that, she refused to grant gun licenses to those who tried to obtain them legally through the court, claiming that issuing gun license violated her conscience. Would that not be a clear violation of both the first and second amendments? And if she was allowed to continue serving as clerk while holding such views, would it not pose a serious threat to the first and second amendment rights of the people of Rowan County? Of course it would. And our argument would be that Davis has not right imposing her religious, moral, or political beliefs on any person in her county. Instead, as an agent of the state, she should either do her job neutrally or quit.
The fact that Kim Davis was taken to jail instead of fined is a question of major controversy. Many people believe that this action is too extreme. She should have been fined, many will argue. However, when we consider that Kim Davis has raised thousands of dollars on Indiegogo and has the backing of many extreme right-winged religious and political organizations, it becomes clear that fining her would have done virtually nothing. Kim received a legal order from her superiors to continue issuing marriage licenses in accordance with the law, and she refused. It is not uncommon, in contempt of court cases, for a judge to order jail time. Therefore, Kim’s situation is actually not unique. It’s not extreme. It’s actually quite common. And her imprisonment serves as a warning to those in power who seek to impose their religious beliefs on their constituency. It’s a violation of the foundational principles of our country, and there will be legal consequences.
It is easy to spin Kim Davis’s story as one of persecution. It’s easy to get on FOX News and warn pastors that this is what’s coming for them if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage. But to do so would be dishonest. Because the reality is that Kim Davis is not being persecuted for her faith, she is reaping the consequences of refusing to do her job as an agent of the state. Davis is welcome to hold her beliefs as tightly as she would like, but when she is at work, she needs to do her job. If her job violates her conscience, then she should quit, because imposing her beliefs on the people of Rowan County is not an option. It’s a violation of one of the highest and most sacred American values: Religious Liberty. And all those who seek to protect and defend American’s rights to freely practice their faith without fear of government regulation should be standing firmly against Davis’s actions.