Circus surrounding Kim Davis case attracts plenty of political clowns

September 12, 2015
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee greeted the crowd Tuesday after being released from the Carter County jail. Photo by Timothy D. Easley/AP

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee greeted the crowd Tuesday after being released from the Carter County jail. AP Photo by Timothy D. Easley


Every circus has clowns, and the carnival surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ claim that her religious beliefs should trump the rule of law and the civil rights of the people she is paid to serve has attracted more than its share of them.

The most shameless has been Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate, Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor and Fox News showman.

Huckabee’s campaign organized a rally for Davis in Grayson last Tuesday, the day U.S. District Judge David Bunning released her from jail there. She spent five nights behind bars for contempt of court after she refused the judge’s order to let her office issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Brushing his face repeatedly for the TV cameras, as if wiping away tears, the Huckster blasted the judge — a conservative Catholic, George W. Bush appointee and son of former Republican Sen. Jim Bunning — for doing his job and enforcing the law.

Huckabee then emotionally offered to take Davis’ place in jail, claiming she was being punished for her beliefs rather than for her illegal behavior.

The second-biggest clown was another Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He showed up at the rally and shook hands until a Huckabee aide blocked him from taking the stage.

Although they haven’t come to Kentucky for photo ops, GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal also have voiced support for Davis’ defiance of the judge’s order and the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

I find it frightening that four presidential candidates of a major political party are so dismissive of the rule of law. I would be even more frightened if any of them had a chance of being elected president.

More disturbing, because they do have a chance of being elected, are similar stands being taken by Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee for governor, and state Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, the GOP nominee for attorney general.

Do they have that little understanding of America’s system of laws and justice? Even if they are just pandering for the votes of conservative Christians, everyone else should be alarmed.

This case isn’t difficult to understand. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Decades ago, that same clause was interpreted to guarantee black people’s civil rights.

Under our system of justice, such a ruling invalidates conflicting federal and state laws, such as Kentucky’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

The bedrock American principle here is that minorities have the same civil rights as everyone else, regardless of how majorities of voters would like to limit them.

Davis has a First Amendment right to free exercise of her religious beliefs. But her rights stop at the point where she, as a public official, infringes on the 14th Amendment rights of gay couples seeking legal marriage licenses. Justifying her actions “under God’s authority” doesn’t cut it.

Do Kentuckians really want a governor and attorney general who either don’t understand our legal system or think some people should be exempt? Just think of the legal expenses they could rack up for taxpayers fighting losing battles over mixing church and state.

This isn’t a fight between conservative values and liberal values; it is a fight between those who understand and respect the rule of law and those who don’t.


As a side note, I have seen one positive thing come out of the Kim Davis circus: Same-sex couples from across the country have come to Morehead to get married.

If those couples spend much time in Morehead, they will see that it is not the ignorant backwater portrayed in some national media reports.

Morehead is one of Eastern Kentucky’s most progressive places. The city council in 2013 voted unanimously for an ordinance banning discrimination against gays and lesbians, becoming only the sixth Kentucky city to do so.

It also is home to Morehead State University, whose respected academic programs range from music to space science. Morehead is not just a place where people preach about their ideas of heaven; it is a place where scientists are exploring the heavens as some of the leading pioneers of small satellite technology.

No, Kim Davis, your beliefs don’t outweigh America’s rule of law

September 8, 2015
Jeffrey Shook preached to the crowd outside the federal Courthouse in Ashland during Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis' contempt of court hearing. Photo by Charles Bertram.

Jeffrey Shook preached to the crowd outside the federal Courthouse in Ashland during Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ contempt of court hearing. Photo by Charles Bertram.


U.S. District Judge David Bunning did the right thing by sending Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to jail until she agrees to either obey the law and allow her office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or she resigns.

Bunning had no choice. His job is to enforce federal law and court orders, and Davis refused to obey. “In this country, we live in a society of laws,” he told her.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Davis’ beliefs, or those of her colleagues in Whitley and Casey counties. Their interpretation of Christianity considers homosexuality a sin and gay marriage wrong. They have every right to believe that.

But this dilemma should be their problem, not ours. This battle should be playing out in their consciences, not among lawyers and judges, couples seeking marriage licenses and self-serving politicians.

“Jailed. For her beliefs,” tweeted Whitney Westerfield, a state senator from Hopkinsville who is the Republican nominee for attorney general.

No, Senator. Davis was jailed for refusing a federal judge’s order to obey the law. Someone seeking to become state attorney general should know better.

If these clerks, or other government officials or employees, cannot in good conscience obey the law and fulfill the duties of their public-service jobs, they should resign. They owe it to the taxpayers they serve, including the Rowan County couples suing Davis for refusing to issue them marriage licenses.

Davis’ case has attracted national attention in part because she isn’t a very sympathetic figure, even among many Christians. She wants to pick and choose, take parts of the Bible seriously and literally, and ignore other parts.

There is no evidence that Davis, an Apostolic Christian who has been divorced three times, has denied marriage licenses to divorced people and adulterers. The Bible has a lot more to say about them than it does about homosexuals.

A couple of generations ago, divorce was considered a socially unacceptable sin. If divorced people are given a pass now by fundamentalist Christians, why are gay people singled out for righteous discrimination?

If Davis can’t do her job in good conscience, why doesn’t she just resign? Maybe, like so many politicos, she feels entitled to her $80,000-a-year job. Her mother was the Rowan County clerk for nearly four decades. Davis now has her son on the payroll.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but for activists who want laws and the government to reflect their religious beliefs, that isn’t good enough.

They seek “religious freedom” laws such as the one the General Assembly passed in 2013 over Gov. Steve Beshear’s wise veto. The main goal of these laws is to make it easier to discriminate against gay people.

Several Republican candidates have urged Beshear to call a special session of the General Assembly — which typically costs taxpayers about $60,000 a day — to find ways to accommodate the clerks’ religious objections.

But accommodation is a slippery slope. What if a clerk started denying marriage licenses to previously divorced people or accused adulterers? What if a Muslim clerk wouldn’t issue drivers’ licenses to women?

Could Baptist officials refuse to issue state liquor licenses? What if surface-mining permits were blocked by government employees who believed the destruction of God’s creation is immoral? Where does it end?

Kentucky officials have wasted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on losing legal battles to post the Ten Commandments on public property. Would they be just as agreeable to displaying verses from the Quran? Statues of Hindu gods? An atheist’s monument proclaiming there is no god?

I respect everyone’s right to their beliefs. But I do not respect people who try to force their beliefs on others, especially when they are acting with the power of government in an increasingly diverse, multicultural society.

If there is one thing world history can teach us, it is that mixing church and state causes nothing but trouble. The sooner Kentuckians learn that lesson, the better.




Pausing to consider the importance of rule of law

February 8, 2009

When was the last time you pondered the concept of the rule of law?

I never thought about it much, either — until Friday. That’s when I joined 130 other Kentuckians from the fields of law, business, education and government who participated in the Rule of Law Symposium in Frankfort.

The Kentucky Bar Association organized the day-long program because its leaders thought the concept needed to be better understood.

“The rule of law is not for lawyers,” said Charles Ricketts, a Louisville attorney who helped organize the symposium. “It’s for all of us.”

What is the rule of law? To colonial pamphleteer Thomas Paine, it was the idea that the law should be king, rather than the king be the law. John Adams saw it as “a government of laws and not men.” Abraham Lincoln explained it as government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

It doesn’t just mean that people should obey the law. It also means that the law should obey the people’s right to fairness and justice.

Kentucky State University President Mary Evans Sias, who hosted the symposium, underscored that point by explaining why she had never learned to swim. When she was growing up in Mississippi, local officials responded to challenges of the state’s segregation laws by filling public swimming pools with concrete rather than allowing black and white children to swim together.

The concept of the rule of law, which emerged during The Enlightenment of the 1700s, was a founding principle of the United States. In recent years, it has been actively promoted abroad to spread economic prosperity, protect the interests of multinational corporations and secure human rights.

“We are becoming a small, global neighborhood,” said the keynote speaker, Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the American Society of International Law in Washington, D.C. Spreading the rule of law worldwide is increasingly important, she said, because geography no longer insulates Americans from terrorism in Afghanistan or toxic manufacturing in China.

Both at home and abroad, the rule of law can be easier to describe than to create, because there are often conflicting interests, values and interpretations. For example, judges are supposed to be fair and impartial, not bend to public opinion or special interests. Do elections and campaign contributions undermine that goal, or does electing judges make them more accountable to the public?

Such conflicts quickly became apparent in six small-group discussions on specific topics, each led by a justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court. I sat in on two sessions: One was about business, labor and the workplace; the other about civil rights and social justice.

Jim Chen, dean of the University of Louisville law school, said digital technology has made it easier for citizens to hold their leaders accountable as they make and enforce laws. But Heather Mahoney of the citizens’ group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said the rule of law is often compromised because wealthy corporations and individuals have more influence over lawmakers and regulators than other citizens do.

Bill Londrigan of the Kentucky AFL-CIO said labor laws in the 1930s helped create a balance of power between workers and management, all but eliminating the violent strikes and riots of earlier decades. But he complained that since 1980, labor law enforcement has favored management, leading to the decline of unions and the American middle class they helped create.

He said it’s vital that the rule of law not only restore workers’ rights in this country, but protect workers abroad from exploitation. Otherwise, we will have a “race to the bottom” that will lower all workers’ standard of living.

“The rule of law is absolutely essential for us to have a global economy that benefits workers and not just the owners of the capital,” Londrigan said.

Not surprisingly, Mike Ridenour of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce had a different point of view. Businesses must make a profit, and consumers want the highest quality at the lowest price.

“So we’re caught with a values conflict even within ourselves,” he said. “All things have a price. We don’t always want to pay the price.”

Merl Hackbart of the University of Kentucky School of Management said cultural differences are a major challenge to expanding the rule of law globally. Laws are effective only when a culture values them, he noted, which explains why Prohibition in the 1920s was a miserable failure.

Ron Crouch, a sociologist who heads the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville, said the rule of law is essential to keeping the marketplace free and fair.

Crouch blamed much of the current economic mess on government deregulation.

“We used to hire police to keep people from robbing banks,” he said. “Now we need to hire police to keep banks from robbing people.”

The biggest threat to the rule of law is corruption, said Andersen of the American Society of International Law. And you don’t have to go to Third World countries to find it; it’s often as close as your county courthouse.

The way to fight corruption, Andersen said, is for citizens to become more involved in how laws are made and enforced. It’s the only way to make the rule of law a reality and not just an ideal — and to create culture of responsibility, accountability and justice.