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Kim Davis Goes To Jail: Defiant Clerk Won’t Honor Her Oath to Uphold the Law and Hits the Slammer

September 8, 2015

I am happy Kim Davis is going to jail. Using religion to justify not doing a job for which you have been elected can’t be an excuse that supports any legal society, lest we become enshrined in a religious system of law like Sharia or Halal, or any other form of religious law. Beyond that issue, though, Kim Davis took an oath to perform her job, and then she complained that her oath of service to the government conflicted with her oath of service to her religion. Kim Davis purports to be the victim, but in all reality, she took an oath to follow the laws set by the United States government, despite her own personal beliefs and then states that her personal oath of service to God interferes with her oath of service she took to abide by laws set by the government. Funny how that works, those conflicting oaths.

One might believe that if the oath to religion is the stronger of the two oaths taken, then if the job duties conflict, the oath taker might quit the offending job, but instead, Kim Davis forced her belief system about God onto those who entered her office, saying her oath to God was more important than her oath to obey the laws set by the government. Kim Davis, finding herself in such purported moral conflict should rightfully choose her oath to her religion as one that supersedes others and be allowed to do that, but she also rightfully should not be allowed to just deny the oath she took to uphold the law because she believes she is exempt from it.

Kim Davis is no victim: she is a manipulator. She is an oath-breaker.

News outlets quote how many other clerks agree with Kim Davis, or disagree, as though there is a safety in numbers, but that kind of portrayal denies the very real fact that a government office can’t be used as a pulpit, particularly when that pulpit conflicts with US law.

Davis has become a symbol of religiously motivated disobedience after the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in June — she’s said she is acting under “God’s authority” when she repeatedly turns gay couples away. But Davis is very much alone in her defiance. The refusal of other clerks to marry same-sex couples largely melted away as it became obvious their legal claims would not hold up in federal court. Only 13 counties in Alabama and two counties in Kentucky are refusing marriage licenses to gay couples, according to the gay rights group Freedom to Marry. Despite many loud proclamations of defiance after the ruling, the vast majority of counties have accepted the law.

Notice how the above quote from the Yahoo news site talks about how many other people have accepted the law? Notice how there is no mention of the oath that government employees take to uphold the law, that maybe what those people have come to understand is that they took an oath to uphold the law when they took office, not to openly subvert the law according to their own religious beliefs? We are a diverse country of religious beliefs, and most people understand that by their very diversity they can not present a united law by which we all must abide, and so there is a separation of the church and the state.

Other counties are allowing clerks to “opt out” of their job responsibilities if they feel that they contradict their religious belief system, again refusing to have the discussion that these clerks took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not their own diverse religious oaths. Lest you wonder about the oath taken for office, consider that this is the oath that Kim Davis took:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of ——————— according to law; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”

Notice there is nothing in this oath about breaking this oath in order to support one’s own belief, nor is there any evidence that Kim Davis can legally impose her belief system upon constituents.

Kim Davis took an oath to uphold the law, not to subvert it.

The issue here is that Davis’s reason for not issuing a marriage license shouldn’t matter–she has been required to comply with Federal laws she swore to uphold and has refused to do so. In a comparison to the infamous case of Loving v. Virginia, which held that barring interracial marriage was unconstitutional, the courts have sine held in United States v. Brittain that rationale behind refusing to obey the law isn’t an excuse to defy a federal judge’s order:

In theory, the Loving ruling meant all anti-miscegenation laws in the United States were invalidated. At the time, more than a dozen states had such laws on the books. But three years later, when Sgt. Louis Voyer (who was white) and Phyllis Bett (who was black) tried to get married in Alabama, they were refused a license by Probate Judge C. Clyde Brittain, on the basis that Alabama law would have made such a license criminal. In fact, Alabama law still made Voyer and Bett’s coupledom criminal in itself, and the Alabama constitution actively barred state lawmakers from legalizing marriage between “any white person and a Negro, or descendant of a Negro.”

In the resulting 1970 case United States v. Brittain, the district court ruling was extremely straightforward: there was no question that the Alabama laws in question were unconstitutional and that Voyer and Bett had the right to marry. The court even held that it didn’t matter if there were some other justification for not allowing them to do so—for example, if the bride did not properly provide proof of residence—because it was so obvious that the real motivation was racial. (This point is perhaps relevant today, as the Kentucky clerk in question has worked around the Obergefell ruling by refusing to grant all marriage licenses—but she has made no secret that her motivation is related to the question of her beliefs about marriage equality.)

Kim Davis didn’t take an oath to only obey those laws with which she personally agreed as a representative of the government; she took an oath to uphold the laws issued by the government, and her personal value system never entered into the oath structure. So where does agreement with a law have any valid meaning for obeying the law? Personal belief arguments aren’t allowed as a defense for being able to run a stop sign, ignore the law to buckle the seatbelt or to pay taxes, so there should be no personal exemption from federal issues for Kim Davis.

 

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