Sunday, September 6, 2015

Objections to Certain Unaffable Rites: Kim Davis and the American Conscience

Kim Davis, County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, was held in contempt for her defiance of Constitutional law on the grounds of her faith. She refused to issue marriage licenses altogether in response to marriage equality.
The Kim Davis case, the County Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County, Kentucky, presents a conundrum. For many, the conversation is wraught with problems on both sides of the argument. The debate is redefining and has strained the relationship between government employment and conscientious objection to federal/state policies, which were already tenuous. One thought I had, however, is how accountable or not accountable should we hold government employees when they defy policy on any grounds?

As a Christian, I may disagree with certain policies that are incongruent with my faith. Under federal law, reasonable accommodations are to be provided to employees such as wearing a burka or accommodations for prayer. These are physical accommodations where no federal law necessarily eschews. But what about philosophical accommodations?

Former Secretary of State, First Lady and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has come under fire for using her personal email account for government purposes. As a federal employee, she defied a government policy that prohibited use of private email in her work. Everything from Benghazi to what staffers knew in her employ has been called into question. The GOP as well as America has held her accountable for not valuing transparency.  Clinton should have been more responsible by adhering to the rule rather than valuing her own convenience. Kim Davis, on the other hand, has invoked the name of God in both her defiance and defense of the Constitution. It would be silly to think Hilary Clinton could invoke the name of Jesus on the issue of whether to use her gmail account or the .gov account. However, in a pluralistic society where poly-fill-in-the-blank is the aspired value, is there room for a Christian science teacher working in a public school to choose not to teach the core curriculum when she knows evolution is incongruent with her belief in creation? Is separation of church and state a "hard and fast rule" or is it pliable? Are religious people to be more creative in how they perform their job responsibilities w/o violating their consciences? Or, are departments such as the DOJ the only ones given the grace to defy federal policies?

In the Jim Crow South, and across America, laws and policies were violated by many people of whom were not employees of the state. However, we do know that there were places where county and state employees who were white (not a whole lot, a smidgen really) subversively and secretively defied segregation laws. The conscientious objector is the role of a person ready to risk it all to bring public attention to harmful policies. Edward Snowden, for example, is now living in exile in Russia for whistleblowing the federal government's harmful surveillance debacle while many illegal immigrants (not all) gain certain protections under law.  No matter where you stand on immigration, does government of the people and by the people protect objections to certain unaffable rites in it?

There are consequences for being the conscientious objector living and preaching in a hostile environment that cuts to the core of faith, belief and what it means to be American in this country. Should Kim Davis be held personally accountable for her defiance of the federal law as a state employee? The answer is as much yes as was the case for Meshach, Shadrach and Abegnego who defied Nebechadnezzer's law to worship him instead of the one true God. That story can be found in the Book of Daniel in the Bible. Since God is sovereign, if it is His will, she will be vindicated. However, she and others have to get comfortable with facing negative consequences when we defy the federal government and its laws. All of us, not just people of faith.

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