Beliefs Don't Land You in Jail – Actions Do

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Booking photo from the Carter County Detention Center

Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis was jailed today by a federal judge for failing to issue marriage licenses, a duty she is sworn to carry out, but which she has refused to do since the Supreme Court decided that LGBTQ people could get married in all 50 states. She claims that her religious beliefs trump the law, saying that issuing licenses to gay couples “irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience.”
“I myself have genuinely held religious beliefs,” the judge said, but “I took an oath.” He noted: “Mrs. Davis took an oath. Oaths mean things.”
According to the New York Times, Judge David L. Bunning said “The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order. If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”
One of Davis’ lawyers is quoted in the article as saying “Today, for the first time in history, an American citizen has been incarcerated for having the belief of conscience that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and she’s been ordered to stay there until she’s willing to change her mind, until she’s willing to change her conscience about what that belief is,” he said. “This is unprecedented in American law.”
Pundit (and presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee calls her jailing “the criminalization of Christianity.
When people of faith stood up against segregation, marching where they wanted to march despite police orders to disband, were they arrested because of their faith or their actions? When people of faith were arrested for refusing to step away from the doors of military recruiters, blocking people from entering because they believed the Vietnam war was immoral, against God’s will, were they being persecuted because of their faith? When my Christian friends refused to move away from the sidewalk in front of the White House in the days leading up to the Iraq War, because they believed their faith called them to be witnesses against the slaughter of innocents, were they arrested because of their faith or because of their actions? Thousands of other people of faith, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, and others stood just a few feet further away, obeying the police orders, but still fervently BELIEVED that the war was absolutely wrong, but none of them were arrested, despite their beliefs being clearly represented by their signs, the songs they sang, the speeches they gave, the prayers they prayed, and even the T-shirts they wore.
No. Kim Davis is not being persecuted because of her religious beliefs. She says that she is acting based on those beliefs and her actions have landed her in jail. She believes that homosexual couples, like my husband and me, do not have the right to be married and that it is a violation of her religious beliefs to issue people like us marriage licenses. If she had resigned from her position as clerk, and held press conferences and prayer meetings from morning until night, talking about her faith and decrying gay marriage, the law would not and could not touch her.
The United States has a great constitution that guarantees Kim Davis the right to BELIEVE anything she wants, SAY almost anything she wants, and even DO almost anything she wants, as long as she doesn’t cause harm to others. Refusing to issue marriage licenses to couples who are legally allowed to wed is causing harm. As clerk she took an oath to uphold and defend the law, and as the judge who sent her to jail today said, “oaths have meaning.”
I too have grappled with having to refuse an order after taking an oath. When I was 21, stationed in Korea as a three-striper in the U.S. Air Force, I was ordered to do something by a young and inexperienced lieutenant. I believed that if I carried out that order it would endanger people and might even threaten national security. I refused to do what he’d demanded. He got mad and made it clear that he was giving me a “direct order.” I said that he could relieve me of duty and that I understood I was violating a direct order but could not, in good conscience, do as he had ordered. He stormed off and came back later with a more senior officer who listened to my concerns and agreed with me. Still, I knowingly risked court martial based on my belief that following his order could do harm to others. I was willing to risk my own freedom to protect others from harm.
So how does Kim Davis stack up to the people of faith who marched where they were ordered not to, blocked recruitment offices, refused to leave the front of the White House, or others who every year walk through the gates of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning Georgia because their faith calls them to take a stand against injustice and war, or soldiers who, like me, refused to obey an order they thought was wrong? I’ll give her this, she’s willing to go to jail based on her beliefs just like countless others have done. She’s in good company. Wrong, in my opinion, especially in the way she treated those who came to her office to get a license. But despite that, her willingness to go to jail for what she believes, puts her in good company.
Most of those who are shouting the loudest about religious freedom right now, though, have never put their feet to the fire or risked their freedom like those who have gone to jail for actions they took based on their beliefs throughout our nation’s history.
I have a suggestion for Mike Huckabee. He should head over to whatever jail Kim Davis is in and chain himself to the door and refuse to leave until she is set free. If he truly believes she’s being persecuted because she is Christian, he ought to be willing to do whatever it takes to get her out. How about it Governor who would be President?