….to religious objections.
But I’m rooting for Kim Davis, the Rowan, Kentucky County Clerk who spent five days in jail for contempt of court for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses that the United States Supreme Court says are legal under the Constitution. She’s out now and still has her job. She remains “religiously opposed” to issuing same sex marriage licenses but is under a federal district judge’s order not to keep her employees from issuing the licenses she opposes. If she does, she could be on the wrong side of the bars again.
Her lawyer says, “She loves God, she loves people, she loves her work, and she will not betray any of those three,” a statement that seems from this distance to advocate an interesting dance.
She does not want her name on any same-sex marriage license. Her attorneys say the licenses issued by her deputies while she’s been away are not valid because they don’t bear her signature. However Kentucky law says any act she is entitled by law to do can be legally done by a “lawful deputy.”
Of course, some political candidates are quick to hitch their campaigns to Davis, who has become a symbol to an important voting segment of our population. Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee have gone to Kentucky to sand by Davis. Other Republican hopefuls are keeping some distance. One of our Missouri Attorney General candidates already has claimed that, if elected, he will have the power to issue an opinion that will protect those who have sincerely held religious objections to state and federal laws. Apparently this candidate for Attorney General does not realize that an attorney General’s opinion does not have any force of law and is, as a judge said many years ago, is just another lawyer’s opinion. Interestingly, none of the other candidates for Missouri Attorney General have claimed they also could be a savior.
Kim Davis is the darling of the Religious Right today and, should she wish, could make a lot of money on the speaking circuit. Her release was a disappointment to many people, not because they believe she is wrong in her position but because her case could set up a court test of the Religious freedom Restoration Act movement. But she and her supporters are fighting the same-sex marriage issue on more than one front, so her case is likely to get to the United States Supreme Court one way or another.
Some see this case that was, to be blunt, inevitable when RFRA started gaining popularity in increasingly conservative legislatures. It has been framed as a question of whether government can force someone to violate their personal religious beliefs. The mirror image of the question is whether one person can impose their religious freedom as a way to limit the religious freedom or the secular civil rights of fellow citizens in a nation that has a history of trying to keep church and state apart.
We saw a cartoon the other day portraying the chaos that can result if RFRA is fully sanctioned in society. A person in a supermarket checkout lane wants to buy some condoms but the checkout clerk says she cannot ring up that sale because it would violate the clerk’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. “You have to go to register ten,” the clerk says. So the customer takes the groceries to register ten and has no problem buying the condoms but is told, “I can’t ring up that ham because my sincerely-held religious beliefs do not allow me to sell ham. You’ll have to go to register eight.”
There is another story that might provide some guidance. Might.
The ancient historian Josephus, a Pharisee, has written that followers of that movement were supported by the common Jewish people in the time of Jesus. They claimed to be guided by the law of Moses in their interpretations of Jewish law. If your correspondent’s understanding of Jewish history is correct, the Pharisees claim to be the founders of today’s Rabbinic Judaism. Josephus contrasts them to the Sadducees, an upper class whose authority came from the high priest in the times of Solomon. We fear we have over-simplified the difference, but over-simplification of religion and government is so common today that we hope our indiscretion has not been a serious one.
Three of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, record the day that some Pharisees hoped to trip up a young rabbi with a challenging question. Matthew and Mark say they were Pharisees. Luke says they were “spies pretending to be sincere.” Luke says they were trying to set up Jesus so he would say something that would make him vulnerable to prosecution by the Roman governor.
They first flattered him: “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” Then came the zinger: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” The Jews objected to paying those taxes, of course. Matthew says they asked the question maliciously. Mark says they asked it hypocritically.
Jesus, who was born at night but not last night, recognized immediately what was afoot. And he got a little testy because, as Luke says, he saw through their craftiness. “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites,” he said in Matthew’s version.
“Show me a coin,” he demanded. And when they gave him a denarius, He asked them, “Whose face and inscription are on this coin?” The scriptures don’t say if there was any hemming and hawing although there might have been at least some of the Pharisees who might have immediately seen where their strategy was about to go out of the wagon tracks. “Caesar’s,” they answered.
We wonder if Jesus paused for dramatic effect or if he flipped the denarius back to the person who gave it to him as he said, “Therefore, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The Pharisees, the scriptures say, were stuck silent and after a while got up and walked away. They still didn’t like this guy. But they couldn’t argue with him that day.
The Pharisees, common people like Kim Davis today, had a strong religious objection to the edicts of their government. And they didn’t want to obey that government. And some perhaps curried favorable public opinion by opposing them.
We’re not scholars of the Bible in our house. But we are unaware of any similar statement in the Old Testament, which was the foundation for the Pharisees’ positions in those times.
What Jesus did that day was define the line between church and state.
Many of those who side with Kim Davis argue that she should not be persecuted in this Christian Nation for standing up for her Christian beliefs. Others say it might not hurt for the Christian Nation to remember the day Jesus Christ defined the line between church and state. And perhaps the Kim Davis case, if it works its way through the legal system, might determine how much the definition in the First Century of the Common Era remains the same these twenty centuries later.