Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis Is Wrong About Kim Davis

In an AP article about a wide range of subjects covered in an interview of Pope Francis conducted on the papal airplane, the Pope, who more or less admitted not knowing the particulars of the case, sided with Davis, saying she had a right of conscience to refuse to issue marriage licenses to LGBT same-sex couples:


In another issue pressing on the American church, Francis was asked about the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for several days after she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite the Supreme Court's ruling making same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Davis said such marriages violate her Apostolic Christian faith.

Francis said he didn't know the case in detail, but he upheld conscience objection as a human right.

"It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," Francis said.


I'm sorry, but the Pope is mistaken. It happens to every human person, especially when that person is shooting from the hip based on incomplete knowledge, and that's exactly what the Pope did in this case.

The freedom of religion conferred on American citizens by the First Amendment to the US Constitution is a freedom of belief, and that freedom is, quite rightly, very nearly absolute.

But any associated freedom of action is, necessarily, limited by ordinary secular law and common law. If that were not so, what possible effectiveness could any law have on the undesirable activity it was intended to control? If all of us could summarily rewrite or reinterpret any law in our minds and then act on that reinterpretation, the result could be, and probably would be, chaos in society.

The Pope also mistakes what it means to be a conscientious objector. America's history of conscientious objection, to war, to legally enshrined racial injustice, etc., requires that the objector be willing either to step back from the confrontation... in Davis's case, resign from her job in which her nonfeasance is illegal... or to go to jail for the illegal behavior s/he commits in the process of objection. That is the means by which an ordinary American citizen can have an impact on a law which the courts have declined to rule unconstitutional.

(ADDED: The issues in which exceptions have been carved out in law for religious conscientious objection have resulted in IMHO grossly unfair treatment of individuals whose only substantive difference is what they say they believe. A good friend of mine from middle school through college was a member of a religion which the US government recognized as having a conscientious objection to war. While most Unitarian Universalists I know object on principle to war, and I certainly did and do, there is no broad objection enshrined in the religion itself; it is left as a matter of conscience to the individual UU. As a result, my friend had an automatic draft exemption, while I was subject to the draft. I do not begrudge him his exemption, but I certainly begrudged my non-exemption. I later obtained a deferment for my left knee, wrecked in an accident when I was 13 and still troublesome to this day; eventually that deferment was commuted to an exemption. Sigh!)

In other words, the conscientious objector can, in fact, be a law unto herself or himself... but only at a price, and that price is to accept the punishment society's law imposes on him or her. It's the only way conscientious objection could possibly work without leading to unlimited lawlessness.

Davis clearly doesn't understand that (or, in my opinion, just wants to make trouble). But there is no excuse for the Pope; he should educate himself on the workings of such a fundamental principle as conscientious objection.

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