You have seen it. A little kid makes up a story as to why he did something that clearly shows that the story had nothing to do with why he did it, but it sounded to him like it would have been a good reason if that really had been why he did it. It is really funny if the kid got basic stuff wrong, like whether you can throw a ball around a corner or the prevalence of elephants in the area. Grownups do that too. Their stories are more plausible sounding, but the fact that a basic premise of the entire story is objectively, clearly and observably false, they will stick to the story and question the motives of anyone who dares point out the obvious flaw. Others who share the same feelings will glom onto the story as truth, and simply deny the obvious, because if the obvious were true, then they could not fit the story to their feelings, so they become blind to the obvious, and like Oedipus, would rather gouge out their own eyes that face the facts. People will even go so far as to cite an irrefutable argument proving them wrong as proof that they are right.
The big story this week is Kim Davis. She has a very strong feeling. Her feeling is that if she has any role in something sinful – not anything sinful, but a particular thing sinful – then she herself is behaving sinfully. The story she made up was that by signing a marriage certificate, she was playing a part in that sinful thing. Her job is that she is the elected County Clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky. Kentucky law states that marriage certificates must be attested to by the County Clerk whose office validated the compliance with the law. Her signature attests only to the compliance of the document to the law. It does not attest to her approval of the document, and it does not attest to her approval of the law. She ran for the office and took the oath of the office that she would be diligent in following the law and ensuring that the law was followed. Her office has no authority over what the law is, it only has a duty to check the paperwork. Her signature says that the office procedures involved adequate measures to see that the persons named on the certificate are properly identified and are eligible under the Laws of Kentucky and the United States to receive a marriage certificate in Rowan County. They are not married by that action, and are under no obligation to get married. In short, her part is nothing more or less than to ensure that the Rule of Law prevails.
She has been courted by people with much to gain and nothing to lose and egged on to claim that she has Religious Freedom, and thus cannot be compelled to do the job she swore to do if it feels to her like a violation of her faith to do that job. She has refused to step down from that job, she just refuses to do the job. Because she was elected, it takes an act of the legislature (not is session) to impeach her, and the Kentucky legislature knows exactly what Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee know: People will vote their feelings over facts every time. There are enough people who hate the idea of marriage equality that it would be political suicide to actually fulfill their oaths to uphold the Constitution once the rallies have started. Maybe, just maybe they will have the guts to clarify the point that the Clerk is not approving or disapproving any legal action by attesting to it’s compliance with the law. Most likely they will do like Mike and Ted, and celebrate the stupid part, the part that is based entirely on willful misunderstanding of what should be simple and straightforward and turning it into a righteous sounding excuse for something vile like hate.
The first bit of stupid is ignoring that the office and the person are not one and the same. The Office has no freedom of religion, and is constitutionally bound to be religiously neutral. The person has the religious freedom to follow their religion, but they cannot use the office for that purpose. The Government is not a pulpit, at least not YOUR pulpit. It is not a violation of a Rabbi’s rights if a Catholic Church does not cede the pulpit to them, and it is not a violation of religious freedom for an office holder to be required to refrain from using the office to compel others to comply with their religious beliefs. What if she believes that marriage is ordained by Jesus Christ? Does she have the right to refuse it to Jews who do not convert? It becomes obviously absurd to equate the duties of office to the personal choices of the office holder. It is not her office, it is an office of the government she occupies.
The second bit of stupid is that if you have no intention of doing the job you were hired to do, you are not a martyr for not doing it. If her work conditions have become unbearable, there is an obvious solution. Getting paid by the people $80,000 per year to sit in jail is not noble. If she truly feels that to be a part of the Rule of Law violates her conscience, and that only the Rule of God should determine her actions, then she should answer that calling by working for the Rule of God on his payroll, not by simply taking pay for a job not done at the expense of the people of Rowan County she swore to serve without bias according to the law. If you do not believe people should drive, don’t seek out a job at the DMV and expect to be paid not to do it. If your faith makes you unfit for a job, it is not a violation of your rights, it is merely a consequence of exercising your rights, just as a boring love life may be consequence of choosing celibacy.
More of the stupid is in the idea that because so many feel that they wish the law was different, and they wish that the matter had not be settled constitutionally, and they just wish that “those people” would go somewhere else, that they buy the “My conscience won’t let me be fair and impartial” line as one defending Christianity from an onslaught of people who want to have families. They are encouraged by shysters who know full well that Theocracy is not the same as the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law means that the Law rules. Not people, not gods, but the law. People and gods may have a role in shaping the law, but in the end, whatever the law turns out as is what they are ruled by. Our Highest Law in the Land clearly states that no one’s God had authority over anyone else, legally speaking, and equal protection includes protection from the religion of others.
Finally, the biggest bit of stupid on that side is the notion that freedom of religion means the freedom to impose your religion, or from a different angle, that their freedom is somehow violated by the notion that someone unlike them has the same kind of rights. The idea that letting “those people” have the same freedoms they enjoy is “shoving it down our throat” and “flaunting it in our faces” that they exist and, worse, are not ashamed of their existence, and worst of all, don’t keep in their place, is an affront to people who believe in the right not to know about anything outside their understanding. This stupid leads many well-intentioned people to sincerely believe that a minority demanding equal treatment to the majority is an attack on the majority. I have no doubt that Mike Huckabee actually believes that Christians have a manifest destiny to control the world by whatever means they can, and that this is different from the Taliban’s take on the role of Islam.
Now this story does have two sides. As is often the case, a lot of the people who are upset with Kim Davis are no less stupid about it. Their reasoning may include that she is being unchristian, she is as guilty of sin, she is generally hypocritical about why she would prefer not to sign marriage certificates, but all they are saying is “We are on the other side, so WE are the ones who are right” and “you people are all the same, you’re bigots”. Ironically, they fail to see the irony in such sentiments. This us v them approach is equally stupid.
I don’t care as much that she has beliefs that I don’t share, but that she is just fundamentally wrong about the facts, and between stupid people and greedy cynics egging her on, people get confused about who the victims are. She is a victim of the fraudulent and cynical advice lobbyists give her to rile up the masses, and the people who are denied equal treatment under the law are victims of her ignorance and gullibility. And in the middle, Christianity gets blamed for what people who call themselves Christian do, whether it has anything at all to do with Scripture or not, and Christians get just enough sound bites from the criticism to reinforce their idea that their beliefs are under attack by a wave of Satanists and destroyers of faith.