Kim Davis: Jailed By An Inconvenient Truth

Kim Davis, the Rowan County, KY, clerk, who was cooling her heels in the Carter County, KY, jail as a result of refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, has managed to conflate the concepts of God and the Constitution into a tangled mess of two quite different faith-based operations.

Ms. Davis's actions, while not of great import in the grand scheme of things (refugees in Europe, wars, famines, crimes against humanity and the most vulnerable in the world community), nonetheless seems to have struck a bell that continues to resonate in those visceral regions of the brain that have a difficult time with reason. One can have faith in God, and one can have faith in the Constitution, and not get into a civil war over whose faith is right. The simple answer is, both are right, at the individual level.

As for me, I believe in God, but I am not devout or driven with great passion about it. Baptized and Christened in a protestant faith, educated by Catholics at one time, surviving the God-is-Dead era of my youth, I grew up to re-discover a deeper feeling for my fellow human beings than the conscious application of faith alone can explain. The God I know does not speak to me with any regularity, but there have been critical junctures in my life where a word of direction came to me without bidding. It was more than my conscience, it was stronger than any human advice, and it made a difference in where I went next. As powerful a voice as that was, I would not presume that whatever spoke to me, would also speak through me to someone else.

I also believe in the Constitution and the laws of the land. And while my faith in it is firm, it is not unbending. I do not always agree; I don't always want to listen to what justice is telling me; and I firmly dig my heels in when I perceive justice to be perverted by the powerful in order to achieve self-serving ends. Some rulings lift me up; some leave me deflated. And I exercise my right to vote in the hope that one voice plus ten-million like-minded others can make a difference. Ms. Davis is welcome to speak to her own faith--that is her Constitutionally-guaranteed right. But, she is not welcome to define my Christianity through her actions, or suggest that her faith has more authority behind it than does mine or anyone else's.

There is the notion that Ms. Davis is, in her way, a conscientious objector, and can be accommodated by her special religious circumstance. While it is true that conscientious objectors in military service can be accommodated by being offered non-combatant specialties (more often it leads to an honorable discharge), the reality is that if they choose to stay in the military they will never rise to lead combat troops. Ergo, Ms. Davis could well serve as an assistant clerk, exempt from the command role, for which she, by her own admission, cannot carry out. But, really, it's not even about that. And it's not about accommodation.

It's about the secular law, which can, if the populace wishes, be Constitutionally amended to accommodate the majority will. The courts do not have the authority to write law--they can only rule based on their interpretation of existing law. That some rulings displease some factions of society is the price that is paid for the system we've got. Sometimes there is accommodation for the minority, sometimes not. Accommodation is not a privilege, and entitlement is not a right. A duly elected county clerk does not enter the office entitled to interpret local, state, or national law to accommodate his or her religious perspective.

My concern is that Ms. Davis is becoming a flashpoint for illogical dissent. I've no problem with logical, rational dissent. Read Dr. King's letter from a Birmingham jail to see what eloquence can spring from a wrongful jailing.

"How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality ...

"There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust."

But a letter from Kim Davis in the Carter County jail will not have, in my opinion, such moral authority behind it because her act of defiance runs counter to the man-made moral law that established gay rights. She cannot define the law, ex post facto, no more than those who jailed Dr. King were allowed to subvert, for their immoral convenience, an otherwise just law.

Whether we believe wholly, partially, or not at all in the God, a God, or just a power out there somewhere, no one of us has the authority to impose our faith, our moral code, on others. We believe what we believe, we choose what we choose, and we must be confident in that, and let others live their lives as best they can. To impose, for personal convenience, a narrow range of faith-based decisions on legally-sanctioned secular conditions flies directly in the faith we have in our Constitution-based society.