Separation of Party From State: Kim Davis, The First Amendment and the GOP

Booking photo of Rowan County clerk Kim Davis provided by the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson

There may have been 11 people onstage at this past Wednesday night’s Republican “debate” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, but one unseen individual might as well have jockeyed for camera position alongside Trump, Fiorina, Carson, et al. So frequently was Kentucky clerk of court Kim Davis’ name dropped, a suggested victim of religious persecution in violation of the First Amendment protections, she should have sat atop Reagan’s plane wearing an American flag t-shirt, one solitary tear slipping down her cheek. Would have meshed nicely with the rest of the evening’s complete lack of nuance and reality.

Like the GOP field’s total misappropriation of mid-August’s doctored Planned Parenthood videos to incite cynical, rational thought-clouding outrage within the party base, Davis has proven a useful gift that keeps on giving. For years, vocal Republicans have accused Democrats of waging a war on Christianity that threatens religious liberty. That this claim is a handy cover for the party’s fight against equality of every type, as dramatic as it is effective, only reinforces its utility. And Davis has become the misanthropic rallying cry’s It Girl.

It seems that among the many counterbalancing rights conservatives have chosen to disregard while uplifting religious freedom and the right to bear arms (freedom to marry, right to life), the pesky old separation of Church and State has also found its way to the scrap heap. But like so many acts of Republican hokum, wishing away the Founding Fathers deliberate effort to prevent religious wingnuts from dictating to the rest of us, does not make it so.

On September 14, the marvelous, erudite and openly gay actor George Takei wrote How Kim Davis Violated the First Amendment for The Daily Beast. He observed:

“So let us go back to high-school civics. When discussing the religious freedom portion of the First Amendment, there are not one but two clauses we must consider. The commonly understood and cited part, and the one Ms. Davis trumpets, is the Freedom to Worship guarantee. Under that clause, the government isn’t allowed to pass any law, or take any action, ‘prohibiting the free exercise’ of religion…

This argument falls apart, however, once you take into account the other, less commonly understood clause. The ‘Establishment Clause’ prohibits the government from aiding or assisting any religion, or religious viewpoint, over any others. This was a key point for the founders of our country, who were of diverse faiths and did not want a state religion, or even any state-endorsed religions.”

Ah yes, but there’s no way that conservatives will heed the good sense of a homosexual Hollywood type. What about another deeply religious writer, such as Mennonite Tara Culp-Ressler? On September 11th (yes), she published I’ve Refused Work Because Of My Religion. Here’s What Kim Davis Doesn’t Understand About Faith for Think Progress.

After a deeply personal description of the choices that have allowed her balance between beliefs and modern professional demands, she completely exposes the falsehood of Davis’ canonization by the right:

“Carving out space for individual workers’ religious objections cannot infringe on the rights of the people whom they’ve been tasked to serve. Nonetheless, in our post-Hobby Lobby society, the calculus has recently tipped much too far toward allowing religious individuals to wield their beliefs to diminish the rights of other people.”

I mean, what else is there? And yet multiple media outlets are reporting this weekend that Davis may still be squatting in her job whiledenying unaltered marriage licenses to Rowan County Kentucky couples. If there’s any tyranny afoot, it’s Davis’ insistence on collecting the paycheck of a government official without executing the duties of the position. Anyone working in the private sector will be happy to tell you. Misconduct is fireable for ANY reason, religious or otherwise. You like free markets, Republicans? By design, our Constitution precludes a public employee from religious dominance over his or her constituents. It’s why Davis has been to jail already. It’s high time she be excused from her position if she finds it so morally objectionable. created a petition to recall Davis. However the Kentucky state legislature won’t convene until early 2016. The people may be stuck with the clerk’s services for several more months. That fact is a regrettable asset to a 2016 Republican primary crowd leveraging divisiveness, judgment and hate over actual working policy discussions.

I’m not sure it’s going to work as well once the Super Tuesday hangover ends and the general election candidate has to start the inevitable pivot. The convenient, temporal partition from the separation of Church and State joins the party’s repulsion of women and immigrants in making Republican candidates nationally unelectable.


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