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America’s religious quandary

September 9, 2015

The United States of America was founded with a national Constitution that specifically guarantees the freedom to believe and worship as each of us sees fit.

However, no wording in our Constitution compels anyone to practice religion nor does it guarantee the right to impose anyone’s individual religious belief on an unwilling subject.

In fact, the document particularly addresses the issue of a governmental religious bias by mandating that church and state shall exist as separate entities, largely due to the desire by the founding fathers to be free of state-run religious persecution such as they had experienced in their countries of origin.

We’ve been arguing over that boundary ever since.

On one hand we decry “religious extremism” as the source of murderous groups like ISIS, and point to the many instances where charlatans have co-opted religion to further their own warped need for power and attention, ala Jim Jones or David Koresh.

On the other hand we also attribute the breakdown of national standards of conscience and morality to the waning influence of religious teaching and practice.

We seem to be constantly debating how much religion is too much religion.

That juxtaposition brings us to the Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis.

The crux of the current brouhaha over Ms. Davis seems to be whether she, as an elected county government official, has the right to impose her personal religious views upon other citizens of her county outside of a designated house of worship or her own private home.

Putting aside for a moment the question of LGBT civil liberties and the inevitable comparison between the previous century’s struggle with legalizing interracial marriage, does Ms. Davis have a Constitutional right to impose her personal religious beliefs upon anyone as a function of her position as a government employee?

If Ms. Davis was the owner of a bakery, an in-home daycare or a retail establishment, the answer to that question would be less clear. The case law on an individual’s right to deny services or goods on the basis of the freedom to believe as we individually choose has been on both sides of that argument practically forever.

In the case of Ms. Davis, it hard to see why this has even become a news item. While she was elected by the citizens of the county, many of whose views apparently coincide with hers on the subject of gay marriage, she is paid by and subject to the government entity that pays her wages.

As a government employee, she is also subject to obeying any Federal law that supersedes state and county laws. As such, she is compelled, as a condition of continuing employment, to issue the marriage licenses to anyone who meets the current legal requirements to receive one.

It is worth noting that the marriage license in and of itself does not create a union, whether secular or religious. Until that license is signed by the proper official, it is just a piece of paper.

Insofar as has been noted to date, Ms. Davis is not in a position to perform the marriage ceremony that would create the actual union. She is not preventing anyone from getting married, since they can go to any other jurisdiction and receive the license.

As an individual, no one can prevent her from having her own personal belief on the subject of same-sex marriage.  As a government employee, she cannot constitutionally impose that belief on anyone else as a condition of performing the duties of her job.

This would seem to be a personnel matter for the county human resources officer to adjudicate.

There are certainly instances of oppressive religious persecution going on in the world, even within our own country.

Ms. Davis doesn’t seem to be one of the oppressed or persecuted.

From → op-ed

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