A 2011 GALLUP poll showed that 78 percent of Americans consider themselves Christians. Gallup’s 2013 survey revealed that 37 percent of Americans said they attended churches weekly. And in 2014, President Obama told a US Christian breakfast meeting that “The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world – far more religious than most Western developed countries.”
Evidence of that religious and Christian bedrock of American society is visible everywhere. In my little town of about 30,000 people, we have about 50 churches located at every imaginable corner. Boldly inscribed on the U.S. currency are the words, “In God We Trust” and the U.S. pledge of allegiance has the words “one nation under God” which President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed for and got inserted into that pledge. In 1956, the same president signed a law which officially declared the U.S. official motto to be “In God We Trust.”
Perhaps the most visible evidence of the place of religion in U.S. as a corporate entity is found in the first amendment of the country’s constitution. It clearly states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. ……..” Notice that the amendment warns Congress, the law-making body, not to meddle in religious affairs, and mentions religious liberty before the “press freedom” which the U.S. is noted for.
But, the U.S. is also a secular state. Matters of religion and state are supposed to be kept separate, as enshrined in the first amendment cited above. The phrase that captures this reality is that which talks about the “separation of church and state.” Several organizations, especially the American atheists, frequently remind everyone about this separation. But, here is where crises often arise. How do you balance a state which is based on religion with the practice of taking religion away from state and other affairs?
That conflict played out in the state of Kentucky last week as one woman clung on to her religious belief by her refusal to carry out her duty as a state official, citing that what was expected of her contradicted her interpretation of the laws of God.
That woman is Kin Davis. She is the clerk at Rowan County in Kentucky. Last week, she resolutely denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples, claiming that marriage was between a man and a woman and that she made her decision based on God’s law. Kim is a born-again Christian. She has been married four times, twice to the same man. She acknowledges her past and told the Associated Press that her epiphany occurred about four years ago when she went to church to fulfil a promise she made to her dying mother. While at the church and listening to the preacher, she said “I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.”
So, her life changed. And it did so to the extent that she was willing to put God’s law over and above human laws and activities. In June this year, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 majority ruled that it was legal for same-sex couples to get married anywhere in the United States. However, to people like Kim, that ruling was in contrast to God’s ordained law that marriage was between Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve or Eve and Evelyn. So, she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Even as the marriage license issue moved to court for adjudication, Kim stood her ground. According to a statement from her lawyer, Kim said that “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word.”
But the same-sex couples who would not get the license for marriage equally stood their ground. The court was their only remedy, for Kim could not be relieved of her position by mere executive fiat. She was elected to the clerk’s position in 2014 when she trounced her opponent by 53-46 percent at the polls. Her late mother had held that position for 37 years, and Kim’s victory consolidated her family’s hold on that office.
Unfortunately for the same-sex couple litigants, only the legislature in Kentucky State can enact a law that would stripe Kim of her official position. They can only remove her through an impeachment process. As expected, the issue went back to court and last Friday, Judge David L. Bunning had had enough of Kim’s defiant disobedience of the court’s order to issue licenses to same-sex couples. He promptly sent Kim to jail. She is to remain there until she agrees to obey court orders to issue the licenses. Initially, the popular belief was that the judge would give Kim the option of paying a fine or going to jail for her contempt of court. But the judge decided to jail her, arguing that “The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order. If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”
Kim is a Democrat. But, conservative politicians who pander to the Republican Christian base, are already pitching their camp with her. Republican Party presidential contestant, Senator Ted Cruz has come out with a fiery statement in which he asserted that “Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny.”
Another contestant, former governor Mike Huckabee, heavily criticized the sentence and promised to visit Kim in jail. Gradually, this issue is becoming a political matter.
Kim was still in jail as at the time of writing this piece. She appears to be in good spirit and shows no hint of backing down in her determination that in God she trusts, and that the U.S. is a nation that is firmly under God, hence she would not issue any marriage license to same-sex couples because it is a sin before her God.
No one can pretend that Kim is alone in her crusade to rid America of what she might consider to be a same-sex plague.