Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk, Kim Davis, claims her refusal to follow the law and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a stand for religious liberty. Davis says she is acting on the “authority of God.” The charlatan, Mike Huckabee, buffoonish Chris Christie, and thousands of Christian bigots say they agree with and support her.
Despite this claim, neither Davis nor any of the opportunists supporting her can explain the original written language that conveyed this authority. They cannot identify who committed it to writing. Nor can they tell us what sufficient, competent evidential matter she, or any of her supporters have to back up her claims. Why should the source she refers to be considered divine by her or anyone else?
The problem is Kim Davis and hordes rallying to her flagrantly misconstrue and then blatantly misrepresent what is happening. Kim Davis is an elected official; she is not some marginalized minority; she is part of the ruling class. She has more in common with the officials who were depriving citizens of their rights than the protesters who were standing up to them.
Davis and her supporters mistakenly use the term religious liberty to invoke what they deem a noble American ideal. In their ignorance or negligence, they disregard that the fundamental ideal is religious toleration. Religious toleration means granting everyone freedom of personal belief, and freedom of religious speech; allowing individuals and groups to practice their religious faith, within reasonable limits. These limits include everyone having freedom of assembly and the right practice what their religion requires of them. Toleration further means refusing to discriminate in employment, accommodation, services or opportunities on religious grounds.Finally, religious toleration recognizes the right of private judgment in religious matters. The liberty to uphold one’s religious opinions and forms of worship, and the right to enjoy all social privileges, civil rights and so on without regard to religious differences. Toleration is a receptive attitude backed by statute or judicial precedent. Religious toleration has often been championed by liberal political leaders and mandated by law. Receptivity, however, cannot be forced on the citizenry, the people either have it or they do not.
America’s foundational ideals included religious toleration. It extended freedom to all citizens to do religious things and believe religious teachings, even though many may feel that the actions or beliefs are wrong and fallacious!
Some Americans, however, insist that their religion is the only true faith and that the deity they worship sanctions their oppression of others and their enforcing God’s will as they interpret it. People have a right to believe this. But in a land founded on religious toleration, no citizen or official has the right to take action to oppress others on the authority of their God. The First Amendment specifically prohibits such action by elected or appointed officials.No governmental authority can compel people to accept and practice any religion, and no valid law can restrict individuals and groups in peaceful practice of their chosen religion.
Lazy thinking and careless speaking has supplanted the ideal of religious toleration with the false idol of “religious liberty.” This misnomer is then used by authoritarians to justify their refusal to respect the rights of others and their failure to practice religious toleration.
The ideal of religious toleration does not people to abandon their personal convictions. It merely asks them to respect the rights, values and ways of living and worshipping of other people who do not share the same convictions. Toleration asserts that others deserve equal respect. Human beings have a fundamental right to equal respect regardless of whether their beliefs and practices accord with those of people in authority or the majority. Religions are sectarian by their nature and in the United States alone, there are at least 435 denominations and sects. Within this multitude are various Christian denominations, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Humanism, and many varieties of belief. Each of the myriad creeds has its set of answers to what is right and wrong in a religious sense. Sometimes there is concurrence, and more often there is disagreement. The problem is these numerous creeds have no way of definitively resolving their differences. Thus, toleration is not only a noble ideal but a practical necessity for a nation whose citizens have such diverse beliefs.
The founding documents and some profound political speeches express the core principles and purposes to which all Americans should rally. Among these governments of just powers based on the consent of the governed and solemn pledges to one another of efforts, resources, and honor lead the way. Unity, justice, equality, peace among ourselves and with all peoples, defense, shared prosperity, and the benefits of authentic liberty for ourselves and our children expand the list. Not one of these documents nor any of the commitments expressed therein, elevate one creed above all others or make any binding on all citizens.
Jefferson, the Author of America, and Madison, the Father of the Constitution, both understood “much of western European history as needlessly besmirched and tragically bloodied by the heavy hand of despotic religion.” Additionally, the Father of Our Country wrote this to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport:
“All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean* themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” [*secondary definition = to conduct or behave (oneself) in a specified manner.]
Thus, the three people most responsible for creating the nation that we pledged allegiance to hundreds of times as children unquestionably believed and asserted that no creed had any overarching authority. They also denied that followers of any faith were empowered or entitled to impose their sectarian doctrines and dogmas on any other person. Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia makes the inappropriateness of governments acting on behalf of religious beliefs abundantly clear:
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or one god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. […] To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion. . . is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty.”
The thinking and intentions of the founders are unambiguous. These were literate and learned people who were gifted political thinkers and effective political leaders. James Madison, who was so instrumental in crafting the Constitution and led the effort in Congress that produced the Bill of Rights, was not opposed to religion. A former student of theology, Madison had deep personal religious convictions. But he did not see his religious perspective as in any way inconsistent with his commitment to religious liberty and “the strict separation of church and state.” For Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, as well as many Founders and Framers, freedom of belief, was essential to all other aspects of genuine liberty. Their idea of a properly governed America did not include the imposition of the doctrines and dogmas of any sect upon any citizens. They believed each citizen had the absolute right to determine the nature of his or her religious beliefs even if those beliefs were not conventional.
The fundamental deduction from these consistently and repeatedly stated principles by people who filled significant roles in the launch of the United States is that they vigorously and rigorously opposed religious authoritarianism. They did not want the government or any instrumentality of the government functioning on the basis of sectarian precepts.The foundational documents they crafted and implemented ordained and established a secular Republic. The society that arose and flourished under the protection of the Republic must give “to bigotry no sanction” nor “to persecution no assistance.” All the Republic and its citizens can rightfully require of one another is conduct becoming of good citizens and effective, resolute support of the Republic. One can do both regardless of whom one loves and marries. Public officials have neither a legal nor a philosophic basis for demanding otherwise.
Neither County Clerks in Kentucky, nor any other local or state official serving under the Constitution of the United States, can rightfully establish a religion and compel conformity by their constituents or anyone else. Kim Davis and others like her engage in malfeasance of office. They are “ not staring down dogs and water canons, not standing in front of a tank, not even sticking a daisy into the barrel of a machine gun.” They are not protesting injustice they are perpetrating it. They are not the harbingers of a looming Holocaust. Although Ms. Davis may be registered as a Democrat, neither she nor her supporters nor those who emulate her exemplify precepts and practices essential to democracy:
“Davis is breaking with the ideals of what it means to live in a small-d democracy, where celebrating civility and civic responsibility despite differences and diversity is perhaps the highest possible value. That whole “I may not agree with you, but I will fight for your right to believe it” business doesn’t give Davis the right to refuse civil rights to others with different beliefs; really, it obliges her to do the opposite. Davis cannot seem to separate her own narrow belief from her obligation as a citizen of the wider world.”
Ms. Davis and those who support her are neither constitutional nor religious scholars. The suit filed on behalf of Ms. Davis and rejected by the Supreme Court assert claims about “first amendment freedoms” as do press releases with her byline. It seems she and her supporters think the “Constitution gives her the right to impose her religion on others as part of her government job.” The first amendment, in fact, says and means precisely the opposite. Millions of Christians in good standing who do not oppose marriage equality. Christian churches and clergy perform same-sex ceremonies. Nonetheless, Ms. Davis and her supporters believe she is empowered by “God’s Authority” force others to follow Christianity as she interprets it. The people supporting this faux prophet and she are rendering to whatever deity may be, homage either blinded or blind-folded by bigotry driven fear!