Public Officials: If Your Religion Prevents You From Doing Your Job, Step Aside

  • September 3, 2015

Many of us make important decisions in our daily lives grounded in our religious values and beliefs. That should be respected, even perhaps, applauded. However when one chooses to take an oath of office or accepts a position as a public official in a secular constitutional democracy like ours, she has a responsibility to do the job she was hired to do. Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’s job requires her to issue marriage licenses to anyone who may legally get married.

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On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court formally recognized the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people when it extended the freedom to marry to same-sex couples nationwide. The Court ruled that the Constitution forbids states to ban marriage for same-sex couples. Since the decision, a small minority of public officials, most notably Ms. Davis, have argued that they should be exempt from having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing their sincerely held religious beliefs. The Supreme Court disagrees, and yet Davis continues to defy the Court by denying same-sex couples marriage licenses. Now, she and, at her directive, her staff, are refusing to issue marriage licenses making it impossible for anyone to obtain a marriage license in that county.

No one should question or challenge Ms. Davis’s religious beliefs. The fact that some news articles and commentators have criticized Davis’s beliefs as inconsistent or hypocritical is beside the point. The bottom line is that she has no right, constitutional or otherwise, to refuse to do the job the state of Kentucky pays her to do.

The reality, as ADL’s amicus brief argued, is that overturning marriage bans ensures that religious considerations do not improperly influence which marriages the state can recognize, but still allows religious groups to decide the definition of marriage for themselves. That remains true. Rabbis, priests, ministers cannot be compelled to participate in marriages of which they do not approve. Religions are not required to solemnize any kind of marriage they don’t want to recognize. However, that does not mean that government employees may abandon their duties nor may they seek to impose their religious beliefs on others by interfering with their constitutional right to marry.

If Ms. Davis or others feel that they cannot fulfill the duties they were selected to perform, they should step aside and allow others to serve the community.

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