Religion isn’t justification for discrimination in court

Maxime Kawawa-Beaudan

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For the past month, a low-ranking government official has dominated the headlines of major newspapers. Kim Davis, a county clerk in Rowan county, entered the limelight when she continued to deny marriage licenses to gay couples after the Supreme Court’s ruling that gay marriage is a constitutional right.

Last week, Pope Francis paid Davis a visit, arranging the meeting in secret and greeting her with a hug. The pope gave Davis a rosary, and reminded her to “stay strong.” He later said that the comment was a show of support for what he referred to as Davis’s use of conscientious objection.

The entire meeting seems jarring, out of place—Pope Francis has become known for his progressive mindset and his forward thinking agenda. His liberal stances on social issues are difficult to reconcile with his tacit support for Davis’s disapproval of gay marriages (a disapproval that stems from her religion).

Redwood students live in a community that, generally, models what acceptance and social tolerance should look like globally. Not only does San Francisco foster a sizable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, but the Bay Area population maintains a largely welcoming and tolerant mindset. However, this is not the case in much of the United States.

According to Pew Research’s 2013 survey, 92 percent of the LGBT community believes that society has become more accepting of their sexual orientations, but Davis and her supporters have proven that tolerance isn’t such a common virtue.

Davis has already spent five days in a jail cell due to her actions, and this in itself is a laudable result. But the outcome of the national debate regarding this issue is more telling than the legal repercussions. If Americans continue to accept vacuous religious justifications as acceptable explanations for intolerance, then we have a problem as a nation.

Davis has attracted both widespread disapproval and support—after she was arrested and placed in a county jail, hundreds of Christian supporters gathered to demand her release. Their signs were pasted with the slogans that, unfortunately, have become familiar in the gay marriage debate—“Sodomy equals sin” and “Homosexuality is an abomination to God almighty.”

Davis and her lawyers supported her refusal to give out marriage licenses with largely abstract and ideological arguments about gay marriage betraying the demands of her “conscience.” But since when does one person’s “conscience” allow them to deny the pursuit of happiness for others?

The entire debate boils down to this: there shouldn’t even be a debate. Davis is a government official. She’s a public servant, and her salary is provided by the taxes paid by American citizens (including gay citizens).

Separation of church and state, as an exact term, was coined in the early 1800’s by Thomas Jefferson—though the central idea can be traced back even further than that. Two hundred years later, we as a nation shouldn’t even be having this discussion. Religious belief is simply not an acceptable or mature justification of a refusal of a Supreme Court decision.

As a government official and public servant, Davis’s occupation has many similarities to that of a clerk at the DMV or a police officer. The salaries of these personnel are paid for by tax dollars, and fall under the umbrella of some government agency or another.

Consider how ridiculous it would seem if a DMV clerk refused to give you your driver’s license because their “conscience” wouldn’t allow them, or if a police officer pulled you over because he was a Buddhist and your bumper sticker didn’t sit well with him? These arguments just aren’t valid—they’re insubstantial and inane.

Government officials have no right to call upon “God’s authority” to defend their actions, and if they do, they seriously misinterpret the fundamental principles of their positions—public servants are extensions of the government’s decisions, not arbitrators of right and wrong.