Reflection on that proverbial “Hill to die on”

Reading Rod Dreher’s thoughtful commentary on Kim Davis this morning and came across this quote from Doug Wilson:

First, whenever we get to that elusive and ever-receding “hill to die on,” we will discover, upon our arrival there, that it only looked like a hill to die on from a distance. Up close, when the possible dying is also up close, it kind of looks like every other hill. All of a sudden it looks like a hill to stay alive on, covered over with topsoil that looks suspiciously like common ground.

So it turns out that surrendering hills is not the best way to train for defending the most important ones. Retreat is habit-forming.

Should she have issued the marriage license?   Or should she have resigned?  Ideally, I would have preferred accommodation was sought for her.  I am sure they easily could have found other clerks who would have been happy to issue the license.  That way her religious freedom would have been balanced against the newly recognized “right” to marry by same sex partners.

I find it appalling that Kim Davis has been jailed for her refusal and could remain in jail indefinitely it seems, since the judge seems bent on forcing her to comply.  The first amendment of the United States’ Constitution seems to have been abrogated.

As for her having been married and divorced four times—Dreher points out she is a recent convert to the Christian faith—only four years ago—so he rightly calls the raising of her past as a form of “slut shaming.”

This case reminds me of that of Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner, two Canadian prisoners of conscience, jailed repeatedly for protesting at abortion facilities.  These witnesses to injustice are a reminder of how sadly  corrupted our legal system has become when it is not longer anchored to natural law.

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6 Responses to Reflection on that proverbial “Hill to die on”

  1. robert stewart says:

    Kim Davis was not imprisoned because of her religious beliefs. She is in jail for contempt of court. There is no first amendment issue here. As a public official she must obey the law or resign if her conscience will not permit compliance. Of course, many of us agree with her principals but that is emphatically not the issue.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Robert,

      You wrote: Kim Davis was not imprisoned because of her religious beliefs. She is in jail for contempt of court. There is no first amendment issue here. As a public official she must obey the law or resign if her conscience will not permit compliance. Of course, many of us agree with her principals but that is emphatically not the issue.

      You are very wrong about this. Rather, there’s a very serious constitutional issue — and not only with the first amendment, but also with the prohibition on a “religious Test” as a “Qualification to any Office or Public Trust under the United States” in the last paragraph of Article VI. Any interpretation of the laws in a manner that construes the duty of an official to violate an individual’s religion constitutes a religious test that excludes the individual from holding the office, in direct violation of Article VI.

      Norm.

      • Stephen K says:

        Norm,

        It would indeed appear on the face of things to a layperson that a constitutional question may be involved, but I am sure the lawyers will argue about this, as well as the merits of Mrs Davis’ position, in both directions. But I think the issue, in layperson’s terms, is summed up in the questions ‘what does religious conscience allow one to do when one holds an official post?” “If the duty of the County Clerk is to issue – or decide – licences in accordance with state regulation, then what are the implications of refusing to do so?”

        I don’t think Mrs Davis’ position will be easily vindicated or that it would be a good result if it were. If her position were to be adopted by all or even many officials, the State would probably not only grind to a halt in very short time and break the rule of law. The Wikipedia entry on the First amendment goes to the heart of this issue:

        “Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief, but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good order.” In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Supreme Court found that while laws cannot interfere with religious belief and opinions, laws can be made to regulate some religious practices ………. The Court stated that to rule otherwise, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government would exist only in name under such circumstances.” …….. While the right to have religious beliefs is absolute, the freedom to act on such beliefs is not absolute.

        A lot of people reading about the controversy will be already asking questions like, why doesn’t Mrs Davis give effect to her conscience and resign? Why did she think she could bind her deputies’ consciences as well, in refusing to authorise their licences? And, does she think electors voted her in to make the kind of stand she is making? Has she breached, or has she gone beyond, her elector’s trust and mandate, and if so, ought she to resign for that reason if no other? What would Mrs Davis say to officials in other departments were they to refuse her any of her own formally competent applications on the grounds of their own consciences?

  2. Stephen K says:

    Further to my earlier post, I’ve come across this opinion about Mrs Davis by an R. R Reno at
    http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/09/kim-daviss-conscientious-decision
    Here is the extract that was of particular relevance to the question: Neither you nor I nor Kim Davis have a “right” to follow our consciences. That’s silly. Our consciences do not wait upon the niceties of rights. I would not protest if higher authorities decided to remove Davis from her position. The law has a proper claim on public life, even if it does not have a final authority over our consciences.

    I think this is a relevant point. Mrs Davis’ conscience is her own. She can’t be criticised for “following it”, whether it’s right or wrong or misconceived not being the issue. But neither can the state, it seems to me, be criticised for expecting its agents to fulfil their public duty whilst they are on the payroll, and indeed, it seems to me that that would be a rightful expectation.

    R R Reno also makes a couple of statements I think are wrong in fact and wrong logically. They include She’s not making grand public statements about a supposed right to dissent. and She’s not acting contrary to the law; She’s not acting at all.

    A failure to discharge a duty is an act that courts generally find a dereliction of duty and for which performance is ordered. And she is indeed making, by implication, a ‘grand statement about a supposed right to dissent’.

    None of us like laws that offend, or incommode us, on various levels. What we have to come to grips with, if we wish to play the “Christian” card, is decide (1) what is in the overall interests of the collective as opposed to our own individual interests, (2)whether what it is should prevail over our personal interests, and (3) finally what did Jesus mean when he said ‘My kingdom is not of this world’.

  3. EPMS says:

    Would a Catholic clerk be justified in asserting her Constitutional right to refuse to issue a marriage license to a fellow Catholic “attempting” a marriage which violated Church teaching? How about when the Supreme Court struck down state “miscegenation” laws? i’m sure there were people who felt that inter-racial marriage was contrary to God’s law. What if one of them had been in a position to refuse to issue a marriage license? To even think that this woman has a defensible position is to allow one’s emotional response to gays to overwhelm one’s rationality, IMHO.

  4. EPMS says:

    Some further research into the case of the Lovings, the couple who challenged the constitutionality of American anti-miscegenation laws, reveals that the Virginian judge who originally found them guilty under the Racial Integrity Act cited his version of natural law:
    ” Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Unfortunately I doubt that this theological viewpoint is completely extinct. What if Kim Davis were acting on this belief?
    On a lighter note, saw a great cartoon where an EMS worker is telling an accident victim, “No, I can’t give you anything for pain. I’m a recent convert to Christian Science.”

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