By making us aware of what they really mean by "religious freedom," Kim Davis may be the Religious Right's worst nightmare

The drama continues to play out at the Rowan County, Kentucky Courthouse, or as some now call it, Nepotism Central. The backstory, about which I have previously written and which is widely known, is relatively simple and equally clear.

Kim Davis, the county clerk, disagreed, on the basis of her religious convictions, with the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges – a decision that granted same-sex couples the right to marry.

Based on her religious belief that same-sex marriage is wrong/immoral, she exercised her religious freedom by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her logic was that, if a marriage license bearing her name was issued to a gay couple, she would be complicit in what she considers a wrong/immoral act. And, given her stated religious convictions about same-sex marriage (whether they are sound, reasonable or not), her logic was sound.

However, Ms. Davis discovered, to her apparent—or, feigned(?)—surprise, that, while the Constitution protects one’s freedom to act on the basis of his/her religious convictions, it does not protect one from the consequences pursuant to that action. Oops!

That Ms. Davis (1) refused to fulfill the duties of her elected position, (2) refused to uphold the settled law of the land and (3) refused to abide by an order issued by a U.S. District Judge as a free expression of her religious beliefs is irrelevant as to the issue of having to face the consequences of her choices. That one is acting on the basis of one’s religious beliefs provides neither exemption nor immunity from penalty if those actions are violative of civil law.

Indeed, in light of her continued refusal to follow his order per issuing marriage licenses to all qualified couples, U.S. District Judge David Bunning cited Ms. Davis for contempt and ordered her jailed on Thursday, September 3.

Ms. Davis is “represented” and “advised” by the far-right, anti-gay Liberty Counsel – a legal group that, in 2014, was designated as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I lack both the space and time to catalogue the craziness of this organization’s obsessive anti-gay demagoguery, but the fact that its chairman, Mat Staver, who regularly warns Christian groups that President Obama intends to impose – wait for it! – “forced homosexuality” on the American people is evidence enough that this crowd is Thorazine-ready.

Signing on with Liberty Counsel to support Ms. Davis have been several shameless candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination: The increasingly bizarre Mike Huckabee, the clownish Ted Cruz, the rapidly-fading Rand Paul, and the just-plain-pathetic Bobby Jindal.

They all, of course, claim that her “religious freedom” has been violated by the fact that she has had to shoulder the consequences of her choices. Ironically, though, the way in which they frame the issue actually debunks their accusation. The consequences she now faces didn’t prevent her from “choosing” to freely express her religious beliefs. It was her “choice” to freely express those beliefs that resulted in the consequences.

However, her initial argument rebutted, Ms. Davis, Liberty Counsel and her political support group are attempting to take the “religious freedom” argument to a different and, in terms of implications, far more threatening level.

Asked, on Wednesday, “by what authority” she was refusing to follow the orders of a federal judge, Ms. Davis responded by saying that she was acting under “the authority of God.”

Though I’m quite sure that most of the secular/non-religious community understands the full meaning of that phrase, allow me, as a member of the Christian tribe who is more than well-acquainted with such phraseology, to fully clarify the implications of it for those who don’t.

When she claims to be acting under “the authority of God,” Ms. Davis is stating that she has been personally authorized/ordered by God to refuse to issue the marriage licenses, to not, in essence, do her job or follow the orders of a federal judge to do her job. She is also stating that, because the authority for her actions came directly from God, she is entitled to immunity regarding any consequences levied by the state because “God’s laws” trump “man’s laws.”

This is Liberty Counsel’s standard argument, so one is not surprised to hear it applied to Ms. Davis’ case. However, it is more than disturbing to hear it embraced by individuals who are seeking to become president of the United States.

Huckabee, a politician parading as a Baptist minister, is predictably sympathetic to the self-imposed “plight” of Ms. Davis. But he became almost scary when, on Morning Joe, he pulled out his trove of hyperbole-from-hell and said that forcing Ms. Davis to face the music in response to her free expression of her religious beliefs represents the “criminalization of Christianity.”

He is, of course, wrong. And, he knows it. The music that Ms. Davis had to face is one of several standard options long-used by civil authorities to penalize persons who disregard a judicial order. Whether those punished are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Rastafari or none of the above is and, in the best traditions of American jurisprudence has been, irrelevant.

But Huckabee’s ideology/theology is no more extreme than most elements of America’s Religious Right, a group that has little appreciation, little money and no time for candidates who frame and speak about hot-button culture issues in clear, rational and honest terms. For Huckabee, assuming a pastoral identity of patient discernment and prophetic truthfulness is just not a winning strategy. He less leads the flock than follows it.

Cruz, Paul and Jindal each jumped into the fray by, first, flailing away at President Obama (who has absolutely nothing to do with the case) and, second, agreeing with Liberty Counsel, Ms. Davis and Mr. Huckabee that, if an action which violates civil law constitutes the expression of one’s religious beliefs, the agent of the action should be exempt from the consequences normally pursuant to it. Think about the implications of that for a moment.

None of them used the word “nullification,” but those who live in downtown Charleston swear they have, in the past week or so, heard John C. Calhoun trying to scratch his way out of his coffin in the churchyard of St. Philip’s.

But, beyond mere nullification, the end-game of their position is not just short-sighted but chaotic, confusing and worthy of being pitched as a sequel to the Mad Max movie.

Using the logic of Messrs. Staver, Huckabee, Cruz, Paul and Jindal, every individual, on the basis of his/her claimed religious belief, becomes a law unto himself/herself. After all, we don’t much do “qualifying tests” for religions and we don’t do “sincerity tests” for those who claim to be followers of those religions.

In the culture of their design, anything goes because everyone is free to do as he/she wishes without fear of consequences as long as he/she claims that his/her agency was “authorized by God.”

Or “authorized by Allah,” or Yahweh, George Burns, Yoda, Jah Rastafari, Charles Manson, David Koresh, or the name of whomever or whatever you deify, even if it is yourself. You get the picture.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.” – Thomas Jefferson


  1. I have a suggestion, try using different terminology describing these very opposite religions. As a humanist with no God I find amicability with Christians. Kim Davis and Mike Huckabee are not Christians! These vile creatures are Leviticans. I will never co exist peacefully with people that want to become the God of Leviticus rather than follow the path of a humble carpenter turned moral philosopher. The religious freedom they defend is the right to impose tyranny. Leviticanism is pure evil justified by old testament followers. I thank Dog that Leviticanism eschew logic, the world will be very scary if one of them learns how to think. A hacktivist friend is working on a social experiment I suggested to expose how degenerate these folks truly are. The Democratic Union of Moral Believers . D.U.M.B. has finally proven that White people were created by God and everyone else evolved from monkeys.

    • While I’m not clear I would use the word “vile” (primarily because it smells like the hyperbolic characterizations used by some in the ranks of the Religious Right), I find your characterization of Ms. Davis, Mr. Huckabee and their fellow travelers as “Leviticans” kind of interesting.

      There are two texts found in Leviticus that are proscriptive per sexual behavior between same-sex partners. Both are part of a much longer litany of mores that evolved over time and became known as the “Holiness Code.”

      The Holiness Code purposed to enable the ancient Israelites to maintain their distinct ethnic and cultural identity as they transitioned from a nomadic tribe of sheepherders to a settled people in what the late Peter Gomes of Harvard called a “frontier community” in Canaan—their self-designated “Promised Land.” It was, by and large, cobbled together as a string of proscriptions in response to the behaviors, beliefs, etc. of surrounding tribes such as the Canaanites; i.e., “They do this. In order to remain a distinct ethnic/cultural people, we will not do that.” The Holiness Code framed behavior less as right/wrong than pure/impure, the latter referencing the relative purity or impurity of the Israelites as a distinct people.

      While we all decry “cherry-picking” texts that support our arguments—“proof-texting”—we all do it to some extent. However, it is particularly unacceptable with the Holiness Code, given that it served as a specific mode of behavior characterized by the delineation of “pure” and “impure” behaviors. Hence, if you choose one behavior to proscribe, you must also choose all the others. For example, if you proscribe same-sex sexual behavior on the basis of the Leviticus texts, you must also proscribe ham sandwiches and polyester/cotton dress shirts. And a bunch of other stuff, to put it in the vernacular.

      Because of its original purpose, one either accepts the Holiness Code in its entirety or accepts it not at all. It seems pretty clear that Ms. Davis et al want to proscribe behaviors to which they don’t cotton and ignore the rest. Sorry, they can’t do that and maintain the integrity of the text. Hence, they may be trying to be “Leviticans,” but they are failing. Badly.

      I like the term, though—“Leviticans.” Liking the way of life it prescribes, however, would be another matter.

      • I’m comfortable calling Mike Huckabee vile and not afraid to say Wayne LaPierre is evil. Dangling precariously from the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder gives me a different perspective. You intellectuals mostly write to each other. My peer group feels little empathy from yours, none of my friends ever reads QM ,Salon,FTB,NYT. I literally can’t call Huckabee and Obama both Christians, totally illogical. I believe you Rusty, as well as Barack Obama are my allies. Christians don’t persecute, hate and murder as masters of Divine Morality. Leviticanism ,old testamentary justifications ,autocratic thinking are the enemies of freedom, peace and justice. Jesus is not my god,only the primary author and largest contributor to my humanistic Morality. Please stop legitimizing the evil people’s theft of the word Christian!!!!! They are not. Down with Leviticanism!!! We humanist and atheist must ally with Christians or we all fall victim to these evil Leviticans. DICK Dawkins obviously isn’t the BRIGHTess atheist, just another authoritarian trying to divide humanity and create a more judgementally foolish autocrats.

        • Actually, I was agreeing with you in my comment. My point was that those who lift a couple of texts out of the “Holiness Code” in Leviticus are both misusing and abusing those texts—as part of an almost monolithic code of behavior intended to keep the identity of the Israelites distinct from neighboring tribes, those texts cannot be separated out from the rest of the code. Hence, if you lean on one, you have to lean on them all. And my guess is that Huckabee still eats those ham sandwiches. That’s why I think your characterization of them as “Leviticans” was both funny and on-target.

          The Christianity that gets the headlines in our time has little to do with the Christian ethic one finds in the New Testament. I don’t disagree with you that, to some extent, the Christian Right has hijacked the name of my faith but has left the substance of it behind. And I stay irritated that they have also hijacked the term “evangelical.” It once was a word that carried a degree of respect. It is now a word that we need to send on an extended vacation because of the pejorative connotations it can have.

          A lot of us agree per the critical issues of our time. It doesn’t mean we have to get there via the same route. It just means that we need to make sure that the fact we took different routes doesn’t keep us from seeing ourselves as a progressive community willing to go to the wall for a progressive agenda.

          • Maybe the urgency I feel is caused by my proximity to these issues. Only 15 months ago a good friend died by gun. Only 4 months since a man brandishing a gun ran through my back yard pursued by 2 other armed thugs, passing within 10 feet of my daughter and I. About 7 weeks back 9 officers came to arrest 2 of my neighbors, many of us recorded the incident just in case. In my social group the second amendment is NEVER mentioned in our discussions about gun violence, only who is next. When will our school be the scene of evil. Why does Mr. LaPierre continue to claim Columbine, Virginia tech and Sandy hook are UNAVOIDABLE tragedies. I hope I don’t offend or alienate you Mr. Inman by reminding you of simple moral wisdom. Evil plans thrive on the complacency of Moral good.

  2. DITTO – I couldn’t have said it better. I am so sick of these jackwad pseudo-christians that I could chew nails and spit horseshoes.

  3. To quote this article:
    “Using the logic of Messrs. Staver, Huckabee, Cruz, Paul and Jindal, every individual, on the basis of his/her claimed religious belief, becomes a law unto himself/herself. After all, we don’t much do “qualifying tests” for religions and we don’t do “sincerity tests” for those who claim to be followers of those religions. ”

    No, they are claiming this “liberty” for Christians ONLY. A Muslim, Jew, Rastafarian, atheist, etc. would have absolutely NO “freedoms”. as the right wing (FALSELY) claim that the USA is a Christian nation. Just because there are more Christians in this country than people of other religions does NOT make this a Christian nation any more than the fact that there are more assholes than any other people makes this an “asshole” nation.

    • Your last paragraph is spot on Paul. I am Australian, (#Canning) and one of America’s right wing Christian extremists has ‘settled’ here, after she married a military man who is the son of a right wing Christian pastor. They are now now spreading their extremist views through her complicit hubby – who is standing as a candidate – with a diatribe of hate filled anti same sex marriage. SSM is not yet legal here 🙁

    • While I don’t disagree that there are substantial elements of the Christian Right who would absolutely claim religious expression without consequence to be a “right” for Christians only, I would temper that a bit by saying this: I really believe that many Christians—be they Evangelicals or Progressives—simply do not understand the end-game of what groups like Liberty Counsel or Family Research Council or individuals like Staver or Huckabee or Jindal or Franklin Graham or Tony Perkins understand to be “religious freedom.”

      Having taught undergraduates for a long while, I think I can attest that one of the most difficult things to impress on them is that it is imperative to follow the logic of an initial phrase or initial argument to its end-game.

      To wit…

      It is easy to get with a crowd and shout “Amen” when someone points to a courthouse and says, “See, Kim Davis is in jail. This is what she got for her religious beliefs. They’re taking away our religious freedom.” But, when you break that little piece of demagoguery down, you find that the only truth in the entire statement is that “Kim Davis is in jail.” She didn’t get jail time “for her religious beliefs”—the state doesn’t care what her “religious beliefs” are. And, per “our religious freedom” being taken away, Kim Davis got jail time precisely because she was free to express/act on her religious beliefs.

      But far, far too many Christians don’t think the issue through to the end-game. They hear the initial statements made by Huckabee & Co. and stop thinking right there. Not all conservative Christians are as rabid as the ones who respond to people like Mat Staver. Lots of them have just never learned how to think logically about the relationship between civil law and religious expression. I know—I sit next to a bunch of them in the pews every Sunday.

      And it was them that I was thinking of when I wrote this column.

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