Kim Davis, a chief deputy clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, spent five days behind bars because she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her Christian beliefs. The controversial Supreme Court case Obergefell V. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015. A same-sex couple sued Davis for not upholding the Supreme Court decision and she was found in contempt of court. Davis was released Sept. 8 after being sent to jail Sept. 3. She has gained national attention and is said to have met with Pope Francis Sept. 24 during his visit to America.
More recently, Davis has been accused of tampering with marriage licenses by removing her name from the license. Davis said she did not want to issue any same-sex marriage licenses, not even to her friends. She said she doesn’t want to associate herself with what she believes violates God ordained-marriage.
“I can’t put my name on a license that doesn’t represent what God ordained marriage to be, “ she told ABC News.
The question now is: what is the legality of such a case in regards to the first amendment – freedom of religion?
Davis said that for her this is an issue of Christian faith.
“To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word.” Davis said in a statement released Sept. 1 to NBC Channel 18 in Lexington, Kentucky, “It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Does religion hold preference over the law? Will the U.S. accommodate those who have religious objections?
These are questions that have risen due to the Kim Davis case but have been answered in the past. In World War II, conscientious objector status was allowed for the first time on religious and moral grounds. Men and women could abstain from fighting, and the U.S. would accommodate them by allowing these individuals to work in necessary non-combatant positions. Another example is the fact that 26 of the 50 United States accommodate the underage drinking of wine for religious purposes.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Davis should just obey “the law of the land.” But Franklin Graham, a prominent evangelical preacher, responded in defense of Davis’ decisions.
“He (Trump) should know that just because something is made into law, doesn’t make it right,” Graham said in a Facebook message.
Davis’s lawyers have argued that religious accommodation should be allowed according to precedent.
On the other hand, there are many people who believe Davis did not have the right to handle her situation the way she did. Professor Steve Vladeck of American University’s College of Law in Washington, DC, told NBCNews that a person in a government position is not exempt from following the law.
“She waived any right to have an objection to issuing same-sex marriage licenses when she ran for the job,” he said.
However, Davis was elected before the Supreme Court made the ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
Mark Smith, professor of political science at Cedarville University and director for Cedarville’s Center for Political Studies, said he believed Davis handled her situation inappropriately because Davis is a government employee.
“We have a constitutional and legislative history of accommodating religion when it confronts with governmental requirements. What makes this case different, among many things, is that Mrs. Davis is a government employee who has a specific task connected to her office,” Smith said. “Also, as an employee, she could potentially make accommodations in her own office by allowing her subordinates to handle licenses for same-sex couples. Instead, she chose, initially, to forbid all of her staff from handling those licenses.”
The Kim Davis case is a battle of religion, precedent and “the supreme law of the land.”
Gabe Chester is a freshman global business and marketing major and off-campus reporter for Cedars. He loves music, sports, school and God.