What Happens If We Free Kim Davis Now?
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is piggybacking on the right wing furor over the imprisonment of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. He’s attending a protest against her incarceration today. “Exercising religious liberty should never be a crime in America,” says Huckabee, and he calls for the immediate release of Kim Davis from prison.
The thing is, Kim Davis isn’t in prison on charges of practicing her religion. As County Clerk, it was her job to file papers, accept payments, and issue legal documents. These aren’t religious duties. They’re secular duties, and she was paid by the secular government to perform them.
What Kim Davis decided to do was to transform her public secular job into a public, government-paid religious role. She declared herself to be the high priest of Rowan County, Kentucky.
Kim Davis anointed herself with entirely new professional powers far outside of the role she was elected to fill, and when higher authorities told her that she was breaking the law by seizing power for herself, she told them that she didn’t need to obey the law in her government job, because her religion told her that she should ignore the law, and practice legal discrimination against Rowan County citizens as her religion instructed her to do.
Kim Davis is in prison for contempt, not for religious liberty.
So now, Mike Huckabee and a whole bunch of other people are rallying in support of Kim Davis. They’re saying she simply ought to be let go, and should be allowed to resume her self-appointed work as high priest of Rowan County, denying marriage licenses to anyone that her own private religion says shouldn’t get married.
What if that was the way the law worked in the United States? What if government officials could impose their own private religious beliefs at work, transforming their jobs into religious positions, dispensing what used to be secular government services according to their individual religious consciences?
If that’s what religious liberty meant in America, then the Adair County Clerk in Kentucky could stop issuing marriage licenses to interracial couples, because he believes that “God’s authority” has declared it to be a sin for African-Americans and European-Americans to live together.
If that’s what religious liberty meant in America, then the Ballard County Clerk could stop issuing dog licenses because she believes that her religion declares dogs to be filthy animals that should not be kept by any human being.
If that’s what religious liberty meant in America, then the head of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Carlisle County could stop issuing drivers’ licenses because his religion asserts that cars are sinful.
If that’s what religious liberty meant in America, then the Governor of Kentucky could stop state funding for any school that allows girls to attend, because his individual religion holds that girls should be working in the home instead.
If that’s what religious liberty meant in America, then the President of the United States could declare himself President For Life, canceling all future presidential elections until his death, because he had spoken to God, who wanted him to stay in office under “God’s authority”.
How could we dare to question any of these actions? How could we dare to take away the “religious liberty” of any of these government officials? Who would we be to stand in the way of their religious practice, if we followed the definition of “religious liberty” proposed by Mike Huckabee?
Thankfully, this weird system of religious totalitarianism isn’t in place in the United States of America. Instead, we have a Constitution. We have a secular government with secular laws that everybody must follow. Individuals are allowed to follow their own religious conscience, but only to the extent that doing so does not violate the right of other people to access government services and equal protection under the law. In government, the Constitution declares that there shall be no establishment of religion, and no religious test for public office.
Free Kim Davis, and the rule of law goes out the window.