Inheriting the Wind, Again
It’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once said. It seems like I just did a piece on religious extremists using the Bible as a cudgel against the rest of us, but that was a while back (“Matters of Conscience,” Archives, Feb 2014, “The First American Theocracy,” Archives, Sep 2014). This time around it’s three county clerks and a flight attendant, which sounds more like the title of a romantic comedy, but it’s still the same old bilge.
In June the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage is legal throughout the land. Three Kentucky County Clerks refused to issue marriage licenses; Kim Davis of Rowan Co., Casey Davis (no relation to Kim) of Davis Co. (no relation to Casey), and Kay Schwartz of Whitley Co. All did so on the basis of their religious belief. Kim has been the eye of the media storm, beginning with rolling video of her refusing the license form to a gay couple. One of the men asks on whose authority she’s acting. “God’s authority,” she answers. The other man asks her: “Did God tell you to treat us like this?” She must have either figured out or had legal advice that by refusing to give licenses to everyone, she couldn’t be charged with unequal treatment. She wouldn’t allow deputy clerks to issue them, either.
A federal judge ordered her to do her job, she refused, and he jailed her for five days. Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz saw the parade and tried to run around to get in front of it, but the judge spoiled it by releasing her just before events got under way. It reminded me so much of the classic film “Inherit the Wind,” about the Scopes Monkey trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. That case was over teaching evolution in school, but the media frenzy, the antipathy between the religious and the secular, and mass delusional behavior are all common themes here.
She’s become a folk hero to the Christian Reich. “She’s our Rosa Parks,” said Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, in a bit of a stretch. She’s a fundamentalist, no, that’s not the right word, extremist, no not that one either, Apostolic. That’s the one, she’s an Apostolic Christian, and believes same sex marriage is a sin (apparently divorce is not, as she’s a three-timer). Nor has she said a thing about eating shellfish, stoning your children for disobeying you, or your neighbor for planting two different crops next to each other, or for wearing a garment made of two different fabrics, all equally condemned in Leviticus, the source of most homophobia. She says it’s a simple choice, “my conscience or my freedom.” I can think of another choice — find another line of work. I’d advise her to avoid seeking employment in a fish market, clothing retail, or agriculture.
On Tuesday, Sep. 8th, she was back at work, hiding somewhere in back, as deputy clerk Brian Mason was handing out licenses. Press from around the world crowded into the small room, some folks standing on stepladders to get a better shot of him at his desk. As County Clerk, Kim Davis’s signature is necessary on the forms, but she refuses to sign them, leaving the validity of those marriages in doubt. In another part of Morehead (the seat of Rowan Co.) a new billboard appeared. It pictured a cow and three goats with the caption: “Dear Kim Davis: the fact that you cannot sell your daughter for 3 goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.” The group behind it is called Planting Peace. It’s the same group that bought a house across from Westboro Baptist Church, painted it rainbow colors, and held a lesbian wedding. It’s better than Cirque de Soleil, but more resembles burlesque.
Meanwhile over in Casey County, Casey Davis was less celebrated, if more vociferous and difficult to follow: “If it takes it, I will go to jail over — if it takes my life, I will die for because I believe I owe that to the people that fought so I can have the freedom that I have. I owe that to them today, and you do, we all do. They fought and died so we could have this freedom and I going to fight and die for my kids and your kids can keep it.” He also had stern words for the judge who jailed Kim Davis: “I think that’s a travesty to think that just because he don’t see it this way, or his opinion is to let same sex marriage go and it’s all right that us as Christians, we as Christians, just don’t have rights anymore? That’s wrong, sir. That’s not right. It’s a war on Christianity.” Ah, yes, the war on Christianity card. It’s related to Fox (alleged) News’ annual war on Christmas. He added that part of his job is “to tell gay people they’re going to hell unless they repent and get washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.” I seriously doubt that job description is found in the county clerk’s handbook, but remember we’re only a state line and ninety years from Tennessee.
Still another Republican presidential candidate and himself a religious zealot, Dr. Ben Carson, accused us godless liberals of trying to force our way of life upon everybody else. Who’s forcing whose way of life upon whom? This is classic projection, a psychoanalytical term for accusing someone else of what you yourself are doing. Then he said “This is a Judeo-Christian nation.” Wrong again, doctor. We are not, and we never have been. With the exception of John Adams, Patrick Henry, and a few others, most of the Founders were deists or Unitarians. This is (still) a secular nation that welcomes all faiths.
Then there’s the case of Charee Stanley, flight attendant for Express Jet, for three years. In the last year or two she’s converted to Islam, and now refuses to serve alcohol to the passengers. She was accommodated by swapping duties until another attendant filed a grievance, so at present she’s suspended, and suing. Let me introduce you to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, a very bright woman. She has something she calls the Amish Bus Driver Rule, which is the essence of simplicity: If you’re Amish, and your religion forbids you from operating machinery, you have no business applying for a job as bus driver.
This isn’t brain surgery. If people aren’t willing to do the job they’ve been hired for and are being paid to do, then they should either quit or be fired (unfortunately, county clerk is an elected position, so I guess they can’t be fired). We have religious freedom in this country, we really do. That doesn’t mean Kim Davis or anyone else has the right to use the power of government to inflict her religion on others, especially as a public servant. Don’t they have to take an oath of some kind, to serve the public? One’s religion has nothing to do with public service. It is a private thing, and if they think they need to make some sort of statement of belief, let them do it on their own time, not the taxpayer’s.
Of the third county clerk, Kay Schwartz, we’ve not heard much, but I have a message for her, Casey Davis and Kim Davis. You’ve got it completely wrong. You are not being paid to follow God’s authority, who is quite out of his jurisdiction in a county clerk’s office. Unless we’re in Saudi Arabia or Iran, and the last time I looked, we aren’t. Politics and religion have never mixed; they are oil and water, and to put them together does a disservice to both. But you are in even greater spiritual danger. By remaining in you job position, even if you’re not personally going against God’s laws, you are complicit in the sins of that agency, and according to your own belief, you will be held accountable. Meanwhile, remember that the First Amendment implies not only freedom of religion, but freedom from it. What in the hell do you think separation of church and state MEANS? Many of us who want to live in the 21st Century don’t appreciate being bludgeoned by your Bronze Age superstitions. I have friends and relatives who are real Christians, and for whom religion provides the positive values of comfort and spiritual strength. I wish more were like them.
As far as folk heroes go, I’ll nominate those two gay men who challenged “God’s Authority” because they knew it was inappropriate and unlawful98.
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind; and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart. — Proverbs 11:29