Justice is blind, or it isn’t justice. The discussion about Kim Davis has many components, but strip away the outer layers and we find justice at the heart of the matter.
Kim Davis was elected to serve as clerk in her Kentucky county. A county clerk manages the legal paperwork of an area’s population, many of the documents carrying the name certificate: birth, death, marriage, divorce, among others. Local government and state legislatures establish policies and procedures for these events, and a county clerk facilitates the necessary paperwork among the citizens.
With the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, if a state law or ruling ever conflicts with a federal law or ruling, the federal statute takes precedent. When the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to prevent same-sex couples from obtaining marriage certificates, all state marriage laws with specific gender requirements were immediately invalid. Per the Supreme Court decision, the state law of Kentucky now mandates that couples cannot be denied a marriage license on the basis of gender, regardless of what may be found in the older legal code. Whether or not unconstitutional state marriage statutes are ever removed from the code is irrelevant – the Supreme Court ruling is the law of the land.
Over the past couple of months I have been having a number of conversations surrounding the moral question of when discrimination should be allowed vs. when the government should use the force of law to keep it from happening. In this post, I am going to try to tackle this issue from as many angles as possible, providing examples, common counter-examples, and trying to provide a framework that anyone can use to help determine whether a specific discriminatory behavior is moral or not.
Let’s start with everybody’s favorite topic: bakers and wedding cakes.
Joe Friday, American icon, was famous for saying, “Just the facts, ma’am” (for the record: that’s not quite what he said). Unfortunately, Fox News and Todd Starnes decided not to follow that advice with his recent piece, “Town Told to Keep Christ Out of Christmas Parade“. Take a moment to read the article then if your head has not exploded head back here for the problems I see with the article. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
In no particular order, here are some things that jump out:
A battle for the Bible is taking place in the state congress of Louisiana. In this corner we have those who support the 1611 King James Version of the Bible. And in that corner we have those who support every version of the Bible.
From time to time, it is difficult to tell if a news piece is intended seriously or is an attempt to outdo The Onion. Earlier this week, the “Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee” voted 8-5 to approve a bill that would declare the Holy Bible the official state book of Louisiana. The original version of the bill affirmed the KJV but it was amended to the more general “Holy Bible” after protests were raised that not all Christians used the KJV. As The Advocate reports:
Carmody sought to designate the Bible, a King James version housed in the State Library of Louisiana, as the official state book. That brought immediate objection from Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, who said his Catholic Bible contains some books that aren’t in the King James version. “A lot of people believe in a Bible that has things different than what’s in there, not just Catholics. It’s also Orthodox,” Ortego said. “Why not put all versions of the Bible? If there’s one, what are we saying about the rest of the people?” added Rep. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego.
Although the recommendation passed and the bill was forwarded to the house, some members of the committee were not comfortable with the bill’s pro-Christian emphasis. Some concern was raised that individuals adhering to other religions and religious texts would be offended by the move. Representative Ebony Woodruff suggested including all books of faith for the state book; his recommendation was rejected. The report makes no mention of the concerns of those who adhere to no holy book.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Representative Thomas Carmody, the bill “is not about establishing an official religion.” While he is right that the bill does not state, “Christianity is the official religion of Louisiana,” he ignores the fact that the Bible is an exclusive book for an exclusive religion making exclusive claims not compatible with most other religions and religious texts. When lawmakers from the state of Louisiana say they want to make the Bible their religious text, they are affirming this book and its exclusive religious claims over and above all others. Even if the bill had been modified to adopt all religious texts, that would amount to a legislative affirmation of religion over non-religion, of religious speech over non-religious speech. As it is, the specific acceptance of the Christian Bible and rejection of all other texts shows this move for what it is: a legislative affirmation of Christianity.
A religious text is not like a tree or a type of jelly. Trees are universal. No one is left out when a state chooses a magnolia over an oak or spruce. Religion, however, is exclusive by nature. You are either on the inside or on the outside. For the hundreds of thousands of non-Christians in Louisiana, some lawmakers have voted them on the outside.
So far the measure has only passed committee. It is expected to come before the full house later in the week where I anticipate its defeat. There are no guarantees, however. Keep in mind, this is the state that in 1981 signed a bill requiring the teaching of creationism. This bill was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Not to be deterred, in 2008 lawmakers passed the Louisiana Science Education Act which gave teachers the right to supplement science materials with additional resources critical of established science. While not explicitly advocating the teaching of creationism, the bill was supported by the creationist group Discovery Institute and is widely seen as providing legislative endorsement for teaching creationism in schools.