Religious freedom at work

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Alex Stogin, Columnist

Over this past summer, the United States Supreme Court made one of its most historic rulings. On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to outlaw gay marriages. This was a monumental victory for gay rights groups across the nation who have been fighting to achieve marriage equality in all 50 states.

Not all Americans see this as a victory. Rather they see it as an attack against their religious liberty. One such person is Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky. After the Supreme Court ruling, Davis stopped issuing licenses to all couples. She argued that issuing marriage licenses to gay couples went against her religious beliefs. This ban provoked six couples, four gay and two straight, to sue Davis.

I stand behind those couples’ decision to sue Davis because religious liberty only has a basis in one’s private life and cannot play a role in their decisions if they work for the government. Davis is correct in saying the first amendment guarantees her religious liberty, but she loses that liberty when she comes into work as a government official.

The constitution guarantees her right to practice her religion privately, and this is often associated with Thomas Jefferson’s “separation of church and state” clause (written in a letter to the Danbury Baptists, separate from the Constitution). The Constitution makes clear that individuals have the right to practice their faith, but also that the government will not endorse a certain religion.

Presidential candidates such as Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz have quickly come to Davis’s defense, condemning the courts for overstepping their bounds and punishing her for her religious beliefs.

This could not be farther from the truth. The courts ordered her to issue the licenses because as a public official she is expected to uphold the law, no matter what her private beliefs are. She was not punished simply for being a Christian. Many argue that if the clerk was a Quaker and refused to issue gun licenses to residents based on their religious beliefs, candidates such as Huckabee and Cruz would be the first ones calling for the removal of that clerk for failing to do their job.

For that reason, I believe that the federal district court judge who ordered Davis to follow the law and issue all marriage licenses was in the right; so much so that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court both rejected Davis’s request for an appeal of the decision. Government officials cannot pick and choose when they can claim religion as their reason for not following the law, whether they are a Christian denying gay marriage licenses, a Quaker refusing gun licenses or any other combination.

Public officials must all abide by the law no matter how much they disagree with it; and because of that I see Davis’s arrest last week for contempt of court as 100 percent justified. I am glad that both gay and straight couples in Rowan County, Kentucky can now all obtain their marriage licenses.