In the midst of the controversy surrounding Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk sent to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, everyone seems to be missing a very important moment to come out of this whole situation. While people make a mockery out of Davis with a slew of insults and internet memes, in a weird way, we owe her our thanks. In the ugly turmoil of one person’s bigotry (thinly disguised as religious belief), the judicial decision handed down by U.S. District Judge David Bunning was a beautiful, shining example of the ideals behind the Separation of Church and State.
Kim Davis’s attorney, Mat Staver, said in an interview with FOX News, “This [decision] is ultimately going to spark a huge debate around the country. This is not the kind of country – this is not the America that our founders envisioned.”
Actually, Mat, this is exactly the kind of America that our founders envisioned. You see, they envisioned a country where every man, woman and child is free to practice their own religion, no matter what religion that may be. And within that freedom, also lies freedom from religion. You see, just because my President identifies as Christian, doesn’t mean that I have to identify the same way; the Constitution protects my right to choose my own religion or to choose no religion at all. And when our founders fled their homeland, that’s exactly what they were fleeing from. Monarchies forced populations to switch religions depending on the religion of the reigning King or Queen and those who refused were often imprisoned, tortured or executed.
America will never have an “official” religion; yet many would have us believe otherwise as politicians like Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz attempt to establish their special brand of evangelical legislation. And to borrow Mr. Staver’s phrase: That is not the America our founders envisioned.
In 1785, James Madison, The Father of the Constitution, wrote Memorial And Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, his response to a bill asking for taxation to support “Teachers of the Christian Religion.” Madison vetoed the bill and in his response wrote:
Who does not see that the same authority, which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority, which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
Memorial And Remonstrance is still regarded today as one of the most powerful arguments against government-supported religion.
Our founders believed very deeply that an individual’s opinions should never be governed, however, his or her actions must be governed. As Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802:
…religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Ms. Davis’s decision to wield her religion like a weapon, using it to abuse her position of authority and infringe upon the basic civil rights of a group of people was exactly the kind of religious tyranny our laws were built to combat. And make no mistake, that’s exactly how Ms. Davis should be identified, as a miniature religious tyrant ruling over her own little kingdom at the county clerk's office.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage does not impede an individual’s right to believe that gay marriage is wrong. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently pointed out, the government’s job is to govern actions, not beliefs. And as American citizens, we do not have the luxury of choosing which laws we want to follow and which ones we don’t. The people who choose to do so are actually called “criminals” and they are usually thrown in jail.
When Judge Banning ruled Ms. Davis was in contempt of court, his decision was based on the fact that she defied the law; her religious beliefs were not a consideration.Had Ms. Davis been released due to her beliefs and simply allowed to go back to her job to continue her religious persecution of others; the law would have failed us, and everything our founding fathers and mothers fought so hard to establish.