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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Defiant court clerk: Criminal or martyr?

Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis shows emotion as she is cheered by a gathering of supporters during a rally on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort Ky., Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Davis spoke at the rally organized by The Family Foundation of Kentucky. The crowd of a few thousand included churchgoers from around the state. Davis has been sued by The American Civil Liberties Union for denying marriage licenses to gay couples. She says her Christian faith prohibits her from signing licenses for same-sex couples. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

As a defiant Kentucky clerk sat in jail Friday, choosing indefinite imprisonment over licensing gay marriages, her lawyers approached the microphones outside and compared her to Dr. Martin Luther King.

Around the country, other supporters reached for Biblical heroes, comparing her to Silas and Daniel, imprisoned for their faith and rescued by God.

It’s precisely the narrative gay rights advocates had hoped to avoid. But as Davis’ mug shot rocketed around the Internet, it became clear that the gay rights movement must battle this idea that Christianity is under siege, said Kenneth Upton, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a law firm specializing in LGBT issues.

“This is what the other side wants,” Upton said, pointing to the image of Davis in handcuffs. “This is a Biblical story, to go to jail for your faith. We don’t want to make her a martyr to the people who are like her, who want to paint themselves as victims.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June, Davis and a handful of other clerks and judges, advised by the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, have refused to comply. They stopped issuing marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight. Davis was merely the first to be challenged in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing couples she turned away, asked that she be fined rather than imprisoned, in part to avoid “a false persecution story,” said Dan Canon, one of the attorneys. But U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning ordered her to jail anyway, reasoning that she would be unmoved by monetary penalties.

“I think he was trying to make an example of Kim Davis, and he may well do so,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which lobbies against gay marriage. “Courage breeds courage, especially when it comes from unlikely places. She may be the example that sparks a firestorm of resistance across this country.”

Chris Hartman, director of Louisville’s Fairness Campaign, dismissed the small number of holdout clerks as a “blip on the radar of civil rights.”

Yet Davis is suddenly famous around the globe as the face of Christian resistance to gay marriage. The crowded field of Republican presidential candidates mostly took her side. Candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, announced he would visit Davis in Kentucky next week, and said “we must end the criminalization of Christianity.”

But Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham said she should follow the law or resign. And even some conservative veterans of religious freedom fights worry that Davis makes a bad case for martyrdom.

Her insistence on keeping her elected position while ignoring federal court orders has been sharply criticized in the this week in the National Review and The American Conservative, and Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker, who serve on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote Friday that “religious liberty itself will be imperiled” if people “cannot differentiate between the freedom to exercise one’s religion and the responsibility of agents of the state to carry out the law.”

Still, Perkins and others on the religious right promise there are dozens of Kim Davises ready to go to jail in defense of their religious freedoms.

Alabama Probate Judge Nick Williams said he called Davis the night before she was jailed, telling her he admires her resolve, and that he too would rather go to prison than resign or relent. His resolve has yet to be tested: no same-sex couples have sought a license from his office in rural Washington County, home to about 17,000 people.

Still, Williams compared Davis to Daniel, the Old Testament hero who was thrown into a lion’s den for refusing to abandon his faith, but with God’s blessing, emerged unscathed.

“I hate the fact that she went to jail, but maybe, just maybe, this will wake America up,” Williams said.

In Irion County, Texas, population 1,500, clerk Molly Criner also declared through the Liberty Counsel that she would issue no licenses. She said on Friday that no same-sex couples have asked for one. She refused to say whether she would issue them, or opt to go to jail instead.

Liberty Counsel attorney Mat Staver said after meeting with Davis in jail Friday that “she is a prisoner of her conscience.” He quoted the letter King wrote from his Birmingham jail cell in 1963, rallying civil rights activists to challenge unjust laws and pay the consequences if necessary to force peaceful change.

He described Davis as the first American imprisoned for a religious objection to gay marriage.

The lawyers suing her dismissed that notion. “This is the billionth time a person has been jailed for violating a court order,” Canon said.

How long Davis might remain behind bars is unclear. Civil contempt carries no standard sentence. It is often described as handing prisoners the keys to their own jail cells — they can get out as soon as they choose to comply.

But Davis has pledged that she never will.

“She elected to make herself a martyr,” said Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke, who has studied the intersection of public service and personal faith. Davis has three choices now, Franke said: She can resign; she can relent and agree to issue licenses; or she can wait in jail until the Legislature meets in January to see if she’s impeached, an unlikely scenario in a deeply conservative state.

Meanwhile, several of the couples who Davis had turned away “under God’s authority” finally were able to pay their fees and get their licenses on Friday, holding hands and smiling for the cameras. All they wanted to do is get married after 11 years as a couple, April Miller and Karen Roberts said. Creating a poster child for Christian oppression wasn’t part of their plan.

“It’s ironic when you think about it, when the basis of being oppressed is that people won’t let you discriminate anymore,” said Upton, the Lambda Legal attorney. “It’s like an Alice in Wonderland world.”

Copyright © 2015 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

8 thoughts on “Defiant court clerk: Criminal or martyr?”

  1. “However, for whatever reason, each if those public servants have now arrogantly decided that some of our nation’s laws simply don’t apply to them.” The courts over the last 180 years have given the president a wide latititude about the Take Care Clause, as George W. Bush also knew when he effectively ended a lot of immigration law enforcement nine years ago. As for Clinton, I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to unless you mean the e-mails, in which she did nothing that Powell and Rice didn’t do before her.

    Davis can’t claim either of those.

    • I beg to differ.

      Mr Powell and Ms Rice did NOT mix their PRIVATE foundation fund-raising (to the tune of over $2 Billion….a lot if it raised from foreign governments) in with their OFFICIAL duties as Secretary of State….on a private (unsecured) server no less!

      As a DIRECT result of her arrogance and chicanery, Ms Clinton broke MULTIPLE federal laws designed to protect our national security while serving in a position of great national trust and responsibility.

      In my mind, that makes her a felon.

      What’s more, there is no longer any doubt that she knew full well what she was doing…and why. So, her shifting excuses (lies) up to this point no longer wash.

      Rather than running for President, she REALLY needs to be in jail.

  2. Just like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Ms Davis took an oath to “take care that the nation’s laws shall be obeyed.”

    However, for whatever reason, each if those public servants have now arrogantly decided that some of our nation’s laws simply don’t apply to them.

    The big difference, however, is that Ms. Davis is the only one who is now in jail. It seems to me the other two need to join her there as well.

  3. She is a criminal. No one is persecuting her because of her religion. She is in jail for being in contempt of court. It was the only recourse as she is an elected official and can only be impeached. Since she is against gay marriage, all she had to do was resign but I guess she doesn’t want to give up her hefty salary.

  4. Refusing to agree with sin is not discrimination, it is just right! All of us should discriminate against sin if we are intelligent. Homosexuality is another sin just like fornication, but worst.

    • Romans 13 of the Bible says: 13 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

  5. She is a poor ignorant woman who is being used as cannon fodder in cause she is incapable of understanding, who will find herself abandoned, alone, and out in the cold when her usefulness runs out.

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