Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kentucky county clerk defies court

Kim Davis made national headlines today when she was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. She defends her actions by citing her first amendment right to religious freedom.

Some have publicly applauded Davis, including Republican presidential candidates Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee. Says Huckabee, “The Supreme Court is not the Supreme branch and it’s certainly not the Supreme Being.” 

But Fiorina, another Republican presidential candidate, thinks differently. “First, I think that we must protect religious liberties with great passion and be willing to expend a lot of political capital to do so now because it’s clear religious liberty is under assault in many, many ways. Having said that, when you are a government employee, I think you take on a different role. When you are a government employee as opposed to say, an employee of another kind of organization, then in essence, you are agreeing to act as an arm of the government. And, while I disagree with this court’s decision, their actions are clear.”

It may not help that this is an issue that a lot of us feel very strongly about, but what do you think? Was it right for Davis to be charged with contempt of court? Is her behavior in any way defensible? How far do your first amendment rights go? Do you think others will be influenced or encouraged by Davis's behavior?


Jared said...

Although I support both the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage, as well as religious freedom under the first amendment, I think it was right for Kim Davis to be charged with contempt of court. Her behavior is in no way defensible for two main reasons. First, unlike what Mike Huckabee says that, "the Supreme Court is not the Supreme branch," the Supremacy Clause which claims that any law made by the national government is, "the supreme law of the land." She tried to go to the Supreme Court to fight this but failed, and continued to violate the law even after this failure. Additionally, her claim that issuing same-sex marriage licenses went against her religious beliefs is a valid claim, but not a valid excuse for her actions. If she did not feel comfortable acting in the way her job required her, she shouldn't have broken the law, she should have found another job. Due to the first amendment, it is fine for her to hold the beliefs she wants to, but those beliefs cannot interfere with the government's actions, and definitely not the freedom of other citizens. If she had not been charged with contempt of court, others may have been influenced or encouraged by Davis's behavior.

Tara Young said...

I do not think that it was right for Davis to be charged with contempt of court. She does have the right to religious freedom and should not have to commit actions that go against her religious beliefs. However, as a government official, I do not think she should be allowed to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses. It is the people's, who were requesting the marriage licenses, right to obtain the license. Therefore, I do not think she should be jailed for her actions, but rather only fired from her job due to her incapability to complete the tasks required for her job. It is her responsibility to comply with the laws passes and act accordingly as a government official. I think that since Davis was jailed for her actions, it will cause other people of the same opinion not to rebel against issuing same-sex marriage licenses or quit. Additionally, there may be backlash against the Kentucky County in which Davis worked as she was a representative of that county as the clerk.

Daniel Jun said...
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Caroline M said...

I find the main conflict to be this: does Kim Davis have the right to defy the law of the land and NOT be held in contempt of court because her religious views (and "acting in the name of God") are protected, or is she forced to carry out the law set before her because it is, as appropriately stated, the "supreme law of the land," and thus unable to be defied?

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made a comment I found connected to the above conflict. “The rule of law is the rule of law." Even though Graham “appreciates [Davis'] conviction” and “supports traditional marriage,” he argues that Davis “has accepted a job where she has to apply the law to everyone.” Graham himself doesn't even support same-sex marriage, but he does recognize that Davis has no right to defy a law that applies to everyone; Davis cannot pick and choose.

Jared is entirely right in stating that Davis has the right to her opinions, and frankly, the right to voice them. This I can affirm, despite how starkly Davis' views butt-heads with mine. That being said, her views do not have the power to defy what is mandated as law, and she cannot hinder the liberties granted to others simply on the basis of personal opinion. Something like that being permitted could open the floodgates for other opposition to same-sex marriage (and other hot-topics); it must be nipped in the bud. That is why, ultimately, I find it appropriate to hold Davis in contempt of court.

Despite the above conclusion, I find it conflicting to bring up the concept of "separation of church and state." Intended by the Framers to keep the "state" out of the "church," would holding Davis in contempt of court agitate the Framers? Davis DOES have a right to speak and defend her beliefs, as laid out by the Framers (though "separation of church and state" is never coined as a term in the Constitution, it is otherwise stated). But is this going too far if Davis hinders the freedoms of others and defies the laws laid out? I think so. In reality, she should find another job if the moral weight is too much for her.

Elliot Quan said...
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Elliot Quan said...

I agree with the above regarding the idea that the freedom to act or express oneself does not carry with it the right to infringe upon the rights of others. Freedom of speech is applies to many general cases, but when one bears the responsibility of an elected official, denying liberty is impermissible.

However, what I find most interesting is that the judge felt the need to jail her; he believed that fining her would “not bring about the desired result of compliance." Moreover, the plaintiffs wanted nothing more than to fine her, but obviously the judge had a stronger opinion on the matter--whether it be on the gay marriage issue itself, or the simple fact that she disobeyed his orders. Perhaps jailing her will simply garner more support from people who sympathize with her, whereas fining might have been prudent enough to effect compliance, but this is purely speculative. We shall see how long she wishes to defy the court order and remain jailed.

Langston Swiecki said...

It is important to note the original intent of the Framers over both the separation of church and state along with the freedom to religion protected by the first amendment. The concept of the separation of church and state was made to ensure that no religious test was required to hold a governmental position, protecting the rights of those in a minority religion or those who chose to abstain from taking a religious belief from discrimination based on a predominant religion. Similarly, religious freedom was protected to ensure that attempts to eliminate rights based on belief could not happen, but in no way does this enable those with individual religious beliefs to limit or restrict the rights of others. Sure, people are able to believe anything they please, just as long as they do not act on these beliefs in a way that belittles or degrades other individuals, and this is especially true for government workers like Kim Davis, who are supposed to be cogs in the bureaucratic machine, working for the greater whole as opposed to taking a stand based on an irrelevant personal belief.
As for the Framers, they would probably be appalled by the divisive effect of religion in current society and its tendency towards extremism, especially how it leads to the treatment of different classes or groups of people as lesser and not equally deserving. The role of religion as a weapon against the progression of the United States is an example of a less savory application of ideology. Ultimately, nothing is gained by allowing the perpetuation of such behavior by government employees, beyond what? a sense of mental security and moral righteousness that you specifically did not allow the "abomination" of marriage between two individuals of the same sex? Such selfish, ignorant actions by a government employee cannot go unpunished, and the actions taken here should hopefully spark further contemplation within others with a similar mentality.

Horace He said...

I really don't see how it's arguable that she shouldn't be charged with contempt of court. The case seems pretty open and shut. The federal court gave an order commanding her to do something. She refused. She appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court. Every single court level that's matter has basically given her the same order. Not charging her with contempt of court is making a mockery of the justice system. There is no way you can disobey an order from the Supreme Court without being charged with Contempt of Court.

As a response to Elliot, it seems that you're implying that the judge had some kind of personal bias, whether towards gay marriage or assertion of power. I don't think that's fair. The purpose of the punishment is to force her to comply. According to WKYT, her supporters are raising funds and calling in for donations. Do you really think a financial punishment is going to affect her compliance when so many people are likely to donate to her if she needed it?

In this specific case, I don't think she has a legal leg to stand on. She's a government official, tasked with carrying out the government's tasks. On the other hand, a private company is an iffier case for me.

Virginia Hsiao said...
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Virginia Hsiao said...

I agree with Horace in that this is a clear case of contempt of court. Although the First Amendment allows for freedom of religion, a government official, as an arm of the government, must carry out the necessary policies issued by the government. I think the politically “correct” exercise of religious liberty for this incident is well summarized in an article by Vox: “The issue is that individual government employees may refuse — based on genuine religious objections — to marry same-sex couples, but the county government as a whole has a compelling interest to accommodate the couple and avoid violating their constitutional right to marry. So an individual county official can step aside to avoid marrying a same-sex couple, but the government has to find a way to marry a same-sex couple in the end, and do so in a way that doesn't significantly slow down the process.”

Thus, functionality remains a key point, and although our individual liberties remain important, the point of reevaluation arises when the exercise of such liberties causes another individual’s liberties to be severely compromised.

To address Tara’s point about the punishment being too harsh and that firing Ms. Davis could simply resolve the issue, I’d like to point out that Ms. Davis, an individual in an elected position, cannot be fired by default. Consequently, because her current inclusion within the system has infringed on the liberties of other individuals and has stifled the process, jailing her is justified.

The points raised in the Kim Davis case remind me of the issues with majority factions as articulated by Madison in Federalist paper 10. Although the interests of specific groups remain important, a good government must also include checks to prevent against the tyranny of a specific faction. At the same time, like the people of paradox reading, the simultaneous inclusions of religious freedom and religious dominance in politics makes for a complicated impact on the political and social scene.

I think this topic brings up interesting questions about the proper exercise of liberties like religious freedom as well as the political ramifications of a society that has such diverse and polarized views. How do we reconcile the priorities of the people as the population becomes more and more diverse? To what extent can we justify our exercise of individual liberties? Is it appropriate for politicians to cater specifically to religious constituents while we still firmly believe in the separation of church and state?

Sameer Jain said...

I agree with Virginia and would like to expand on the scope of religious freedom. Like Elliot said, one can basically exercise their rights as long as they do not infringe on others'. Specifically, one can be free to exercise their religion under the condition that it does not prevent other people from acting within their rights to marry.

The person in this case was preventing a gay couple from exercising their right to marry, and is therefore overstepping her bounds in practicing religious freedom.

This is somewhat related to the thought that the Framers put in while writing the Constitution. Power and freedom must be limited in order to prevent a single group from silencing or overpowering any other group. While religious freedom is allowed to a degree, it is limited in order to protect the rights of other groups.

Christopher Duan said...

I agree with what Jared said completely, that while she is allowed to practice her freedom of religion, she can and should be held in contempt of court for defying the judge's orders, regardless of her own religions beliefs. Furthermore, i feel that if her beliefs are affecting her ability to carry out her duties in her job, it's right for her to step down, as there is a conflict of interest if she stays in office.