by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (1st Amendment, US Constitution)
September 8, 2015 (San Diego)-- A Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis has become a symbol of religious opposition to same-sex marriage after she was jailed Thursday for defying a federal court order to issue licenses to gay couples, the Union-Tribune reported.
The judge’s decision to jail Davis, a 49-year-old Democrat who was elected last year, immediately intensified the attention focused on her, a longtime government worker and one of three of Kentucky’s 120 county clerks who contend that their religious beliefs keep them from recognizing same-sex marriages. Hours after her imprisonment, several Republican presidential candidates declared their support for Davis. Today, after a judge freed her since her clerks had begun issuing the marriage licenses, she was cheered by Christian conservatives. (The judge ordered Davis not to interfere with issuance of the licenses, though she has not yet said if she will comply.)
On September 12, 1960, John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for the Presidency, addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association (Available at:). I believe this speech encapsulates the meaning of the 1st Amendment, one of the foundations of our Democracy. What follows is extended highlights from Kennedy’s speech:
It is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.
I believe in an America . . . where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace of the public acts of its officials.
It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart.
I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair.
I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none . . . and who fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual, or obligation.
I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce . . . I will make my decision in accordance with these views — in accordance with these views — in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest,
But if the time should ever come . . . when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise. [my emphasis]
There was a time when laws in this country prohibited marriage between the races. Nowadays, couples who do not subscribe to a particular religion can be married by a Justice of the Peace. Religions are free to determine who they will or will not marry, e.g. Orthodox Jewish rabbis won’t perform a marriage between a Jew and non-Jew, Catholic priests won’t perform a marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic except if certain conditions are agreed upon. This is how it should be, within a religious body. In Israel, marriages are controlled by the respective religious authorities so inter-religious marriages are impossible. This is the United States, not Israel.
I respect Ms. Davis’s beliefs; but she is not acting within her church, she is not acting as an individual, she is an elected official who took an oath of office. There can be NO doubt that her decision is a religious one as she has made this absolutely clear. As such, she has two choices: 1. delegate the issuing of marriage licenses to her clerks; or 2. as John F. Kennedy stated in his speech: “But if the time should ever come . . . when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise.”
The Republican presidential candidates using this issue to play to their conservative Christian constituency are displaying their contempt for our Constitution and our rule of law. And these conservative Christians should study the history of the 1st Amendment and religious persecution in the US and heed Kennedy’s words: “It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart.”
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH is a retired epidemiologist and native San Diegan. His family has been in San Diego since 1936. Dr. Harrison has been actively engaged in supporting the adoption of a single-payer-non-profit health care system, Medicare for All (see Physicians for a National Health Program’s website at: http://www.pnhp.org ) and is currently writing articles in support of vaccinations for Every Child By Two, an organization founded in 1991 by Rosalyn Carter (former President Jimmy Carter’s wife) and Betty Bumpers (wife of former Governor of Arkansas) to promote vaccinations in children. You can find Dr. Harrison’s articles at: http://www.ecbt.org/index.php/facts_and_issues/article/expert_commentary .
The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.