Kim Davis, the servant who refuses to serve

This Kentucky county clerk is a public servant who refuses to serve. She has more in common with Sandra Fluke than with Christian martyrs.


WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2015 – Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has decided to follow her religious convictions, no matter the personal cost: She refuses to issue marriage licenses as long as she must issue them to same-sex couples. Davis would rather go to jail for contempt than bow to the power of the state and its un-Christian laws. Like other warriors of conscience before her – Sandra Fluke springs to mind – she will eventually make the rounds of friendly news programs, take some paid speaking gigs and hire someone to ghostwrite a book.

She may even be invited to lead political gatherings in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Had she really wanted to follow her convictions, she simply would have resigned.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tweeted, “Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubts about the criminalization of Christianity in this country. We must defend #ReligiousLiberty!”

Huckabee is wrong. Her Christianity was never under attack. Unlike bakers who refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings, Davis was never asked to transact with gays nor even to lift a finger to make their weddings fabulous. Unlike bakers, she took an oath prescribed by Section 228 of the Kentucky State Constitution, an oath to uphold the law, an oath to serve:

“I, (Kim Davis), do swear that I will well and truly discharge the duties of the office of (Rowan) County Circuit Court clerk, according to the best of my skill and judgment, making the due entries and records of all orders, judgments, decrees, opinions and proceedings of the court …; and that I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor, affection or partiality, so help me God.”

Elsewhere in the law:

A public servant is guilty of official misconduct in the second degree when he knowingly: (a) Commits an act relating to his office which constitutes an unauthorized exercise of his official functions; or (b) Refrains from performing a duty imposed upon him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office.  (Ky. Acts ch. 406, sec. 188, 522.030)

Davis refrained from performing a duty imposed upon her by the law, in defiance of the courts and the Constitution. She’s not a martyr; she’s a public servant who refused to serve. She should resign or be removed from office.

It appears that neither she nor the state legislature has the integrity to make either of those things happen.

The portion of her job that involves issuing marriage licenses requires only that Davis affirm that couples wishing to marry in her county meet the legal requirements set out by the state of Kentucky. It does not require her to perform marriages, serve as a character witness or affirm that the couple meets any moral standards. They can be adulterers, Cthulhu-worshippers or even vegans.

Her signature on a marriage license endorses none of that. It says only, “these people meet the minimum requirements of the law as determined by the legislature and the courts.”

Davis believes that beyond performing her legal duties, she should enforce her version of morality on others. In that she is like the librarian who refuses to loan out dirty books, the liquor store clerk who refuses to sell booze, the driver who occupies the left lane on cruise control at precisely the speed limit. She’s the church lady who prays not for mercy or God’s grace, but to offer God advice and to suggest names for smiting.

No one can be forced to loan out books by Chaucer, sell booze or drive faster than the speed limit. People who feel that those things violate their principles should avoid working in libraries and liquor stores, and they should stay in the right lane. The job of a Kim Davis is to certify legal contracts (marriage) as defined by the law, not to make the law.

The heart of American conservatism is love of liberty, love of the Constitution and a profound respect for the operation of law. Kim Davis is no conservative, and conservatives who support her have either abandoned principle for expedience or are profoundly ignorant of the law. If a conservative’s conscience doesn’t allow her to perform her job, she should leave the job, not force everyone else to bend to her conscience.

The absurd fuss over Kim Davis has nothing to do with religious liberty. A conscientious objector serves conscience by refusing to take the oath to serve, not by taking and then breaking the oath. Davis is, like Sandra Fluke, a grandstander and an opportunist, a closet fascist who wants the world to march to her drum, not a champion of liberty.

In a perverse way Davis is right on one point: The state should get out of the marriage business. It should be in the business only of registering contracts and leave churches to perform the rites and rituals of holy matrimony. If you want God to bless your marriage, get married in church; if you want the Social Security Administration and the IRS to recognize your union, enter into a civil contract.

There is nothing sacred about a contract, and the state has no power to make your sex life right in the eyes of God.

If people want the legal benefits of a marriage contract, let them go to the state, and let the state not discriminate on the basis of the sex and sexual orientation of the couple. If people want the blessings of holy matrimony, let them go to a church, and let the church set worthiness standards for those blessings. If they want both, let them go to both the state and the church to get both.

And let Kim Davis decide whether she wants to work for the state or for God.

She has no business trying to serve two masters.

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Jim Picht
James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.