Archive for the ‘civil rights’ Category

First freedom isn’t a secondary human right

First published July 11, 2015

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, there has been a growing chorus calling for the resignation or removal of county officials in Kentucky who cannot, for reasons of faith, support same-sex marriage.

On Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear joined those voices, telling Casey County Clerk Casey Davis that he should issue marriage licenses to all who may now marry or step aside — in which case the governor would appoint someone to fill his position until there is another election.

While Davis’ grandstanding approach has gotten the most attention, 57 county clerks last week signed a letter asking the governor to call a special session to address the problem of how to protect their religious liberty while also complying with the court’s ruling, which made gay marriage legal in every state. This was after Beshear had already turned down such a request by Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, a leader of the governor’s own party.

Beshear said the issue can wait until 2016. Meanwhile, nearly half the county clerks in the state, who have until now faithfully executed their responsibilities as public officials, are faced with the choice of either participating in something that violates their consciences or giving up their careers and turning their backs on those who elected them, in most cases knowing they were people of faith.

It is a conundrum the justices created when they decided by a 5-4 margin to create a new civil right by changing the definition of marriage that has existed since the beginning of civilization. It comes as no surprise, yet it comes with questions that must be addressed regarding the place of faith in a nation founded on Judeo-Christian ethics and religious freedom as well as on Enlightenment ideas about the nature of humanity and liberty.

Although our nation’s founders were men of diverse views — from Thomas Paine, a Deist who despised Christianity, to Patrick Henry, who was a devout Christian — they were able to agree that all of us are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights …”

In other words, all rights come from God, and so does all political authority, according to the Bible in Romans 13:1. Those who oppose same-sex marriage make the case that God cannot grant a right that is contrary to his perfect order. And in Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus — who was the Word of God incarnated (John 1:1) — teaches that God was the author of marriage from the beginning. Quoting the ancient Jewish scriptures (Genesis 2:24), Christ said that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

The Bible is also unambiguous in describing homoerotic relationships as sinful, although I believe we are guilty of the ultimate sin of pride if we believe those relationships are worse than other sins or that any of us is without sin.

Conservatives conveniently forget that the sin of Sodom, according to the prophet Ezekiel, was that the city’s people had become “overfed and unconcerned” and “did not help the poor and needy.”

That’s something we might want to keep in mind when we’re stuffing ourselves full of fried chicken and potato salad at a church social and grousing about our taxes paying for food for the children of the working poor.

As the United States becomes an increasingly secular society, more Americans conflate Thomas Jefferson’s limited idea of the idea of separation of church and state with the broader postmodern notion that religious beliefs have no place in the public sphere. Not only is that not possible, but if it were, it would be discriminatory.

“Efforts to craft a public square from which religious conversation is absent, no matter how thoughtfully worked out, will always in the end say to those of organized religion that they alone, unlike everybody else, must enter public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves that they may consider the most vital,” said Stephen L. Carter of Yale, a prominent constitutional scholar.

And John Adams, who played an eminent role when this nation was conceived in liberty, wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

At the heart of Christianity is the commandment that we must “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and there is no caveat that excepts our LGBT neighbors. And at the core of American democracy is the principle that all of us “are created equal” and endowed by the Creator with human rights.

In balancing LGBT rights with religious liberty, though, we should not forget that the First Amendment right of religious freedom is first for a reason.

Hyperbole and hysteria in Indiana

First published Saturday, April 4, 2015

ABC 57 in South Bend, Ind., reported April 1 that a high school coach was suspended after she tweeted that she was going to burn down Memories Pizza in nearby Walkerton for refusing to cater gay weddings.

Walkerton’s police chief said his department had investigated the threat and informed prosecutors, and he asked that folks follow the law — no fooling.

Tuesday, the TV station aired an interview with Memories manager Crystal O’ Connor and her father, Kevin, about Gov. Mike Pence’s signing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Crystal said that if the family were asked to provide pizza for a gay wedding, they would have to refuse based on their Christian beliefs.

Kevin O’ Connor said sexuality is a choice and that he chooses to be heterosexual.

To its credit, ABC 57 tacked on a footnote at the end of the story saying the family would not refuse a gay couple that came inside the restaurant to eat.

That’s a distinction most who are outraged about the law don’t make — between refusing to serve persons because of who they are and refusing to service events.

Some Christians believe that catering a same-sex wedding amounts to approval of, and participation in, something they consider sinful based on what the Bible says about homosexual acts.

Discrimination against persons is unconscionable and should be illegal. However, if the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion means anything, refusal to participate in events that violate one’s conscience should be lawful.

According to Pence, Indiana’s new law doesn’t give anyone a license to discriminate, and he wants the legislature to amend the law to make that clear.

Indiana’s law, which takes effect July1, is almost identical to those in 20 other states, including Kentucky, and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It differs from the U.S. law by defining persons to include churches and corporations, and providing a defense in civil actions involving private parties.

Basically, Indiana’s states that “a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except in furthering “a compelling governmental interest,” and if it must impose a burden, it must use “the least restrictive means.”

Secularists are outraged over the refusal of a religious minority to accept their redefinition of the sacrament of marriage and are willing to discriminate against anyone who does not adopt their view.

One state legislator in Oklahoma offered a bill to brand Christian businesses that want to opt out of promoting same-sex relationships so that others might shun them and destroy their livelihood.

It seems the only acceptable bigotry today is against traditional Christians.

One reason is that most don’t know what traditional Christianity is. Many think the free exercise of religion means only that people are free to worship inside their churches or synagogues on their own time, but should keep their religious beliefs to themselves. They want to force Christians into the closet.

Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative, wrote that orthodox Christians should retreat to a redoubt they can defend.

“If by ‘Christianity’ we mean the philosophical and cultural framework setting the broad terms for engagement in American public life, Christianity is dead, and we Christians have killed it,” he wrote. “We have allowed our children to be catechized by the culture and have produced an anesthetizing religion suited for little more than being a chaplaincy to the liberal individualistic order.”

I strongly disagree. Being a Christian is personal, but not private. It is a 24/7 thing, not something reserved for an hour on Sunday mornings. And if you believe in Christ’s Great Commission, as I do, then it isn’t something one keeps to oneself.

I also believe in the Great Commandment, which is that we should love God foremost and love our neighbors no less than ourselves. There is no caveat exempting gay or agnostic neighbors.

I wouldn’t discriminate against anyone, but I wouldn’t tell others they must participate in things they don’t feel right about.

In a pluralistic society, religious liberty must not only be tolerated but respected.

Modern martyr Jonathan Myrick Daniels

In the film “Selma,” released early this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights marches in Alabama, one of the most disturbing scenes is the brutal murder of young Jimmie Lee Jackson, a Baptist deacon.

The scene is shown as an event that precipitated those marches.

Jackson, however, wasn’t the only clergyman who was killed in the events surrounding those marches in support of passage of the Voting Rights Act. Another young Christian martyr, who is honored with a memorial here in Nelson County, was Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a Harvard-educated white Episcopalian who was gunned down 50 years ago this week.

In 2012, I mentioned Daniels’ memorial in an illustrated column I wrote for The Kentucky Standard’s People & Places page about an autumn day hike at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

In a forest glade on the grounds of the Trappist monastery near New Haven is the beautiful, life-sized reproduction of “The Garden of Gethsemani” by renowned American sculptor Walker Hancock. It shows a kneeling Jesus agonizing over his impending crucifixion while nearby his disciples Peter, John and James, lie asleep, unaware of his fear and suffering.

The story of the artwork is included on a plaque near the sleeping disciples. It attributes the sculptures to Hancock, mentions that they were donated by William Coolidge of Boston, Mass., and says only that they were dedicated to the memory of Daniels. According to the plaque, he was killed in Alabama on Aug. 20, 1965. (Several online sources give the date of his death as Aug. 14, but the date on his gravestone is the same as that on the plaque.)

The plaque also contains these words as a reminder that the one holy Catholic and Apostolic church includes all followers of Jesus, not only those of any particular denomination: “May we always remember that the church exists to lead men to Christ in various ways, but it is always the same Christ.”

The story of Daniels’ killing is told in more detail in a book I read this summer by Gene Robinson, a retired Episcopal bishop from Kentucky.

According to Robinson’s account, Daniels was born in 1939 in Keene, N.H., and while studying at Harvard, experienced a conviction to become a priest. He was to have been ordained in 1966. But in 1965, he heeded a call by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for students and others to come to the South and join in the march to Montgomery, Alabama’s capital.

After the Selma marches, Daniels chose to spend the summer in Alabama and advocate on behalf of disenfranchised African-Americans.

On Aug. 13, according to Robinson, he and other protesters in Fort Deposit, Ala., were arrested and jailed in nearby Hayneville.

After their release, Daniels, a priest and two black youths went to a grocery store to buy Cokes. Tom Coleman, a highway worker and special deputy, was angry with the demonstrators and came toward them with a shotgun leveled at 17-year-old Ruby Sales.

Daniels pushed the girl to the ground and took the full blast of the gun himself. He died instantly.

The priest was shot in the back but escaped with the two youths.

In 1991, the Episcopal Church honored Daniels with a special day of remembrance in its Calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, on Aug. 14.

Following is the collect for the day:

O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: we give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Heritage of hate and the changing South

One of oddest mental images I have from my days as a weekly newspaper editor in Nicholasville is of a little black girl waving a Confederate battle flag from atop a parade float.

The Chamber of Commerce had prohibited displays of the rebel flag in the Jessamine Jamboree, and I had written a commentary supporting their decision.

The editorial had resulted in angry letters to the editor from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who vowed to fly their flag in defiance of the order.

The Stars and Bars, they said, was a symbol of “heritage, not hate.” I argued that it belonged in a museum, not at an event intended to bring people together.

On the south end of Main Street, most African-American residents stood in stony silence while watching the display go by, and a few hurled epithets. On the north end, someone joked as I was taking pictures that I shouldn’t get too close to the float. I laughed, but a rangy figure who overheard leaned close and told me I’d be safer with the heritage group than surrounded by his friends.


Members of the National Socialists Movement and the White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan salute to start a rally Saturday April 21, 2012, at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. At least 70 law enforcement officers were present to control a crowd of 150 to 200 demonstrators when a group of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members rallied against illegal immigration on the steps of the Kentucky Capitol. (AP Photo/John Flavell)

“The past is never dead. It is not even past,” William Faulkner wrote.  That has been true of race relations in the South, but reactions last week to the racially motivated murders of nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., were astounding.

Since Gov. Nikki Haley and other leaders called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds in Charleston, a chorus of voices across the country has demanded the removal of the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy, including the statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol.

Even more encouraging is that Walmart, eBay and other retailers have said they will no longer sell the flags.

Once again, we’re hearing from resisters that the flag represents “heritage, not hate.” That may be true for some, but there is also a heritage of hate associated with the flag that is seared into our national consciousness and with which we must reckon.

I have referred to the Stars and Bars as the Confederate battle flag because it is not the official flag of the Confederacy that flew over capitols during the Civil War. It is the flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which was revived 100 years after the Civil War as a symbol of white supremacy and defiance of civil rights. That is its legacy in the minds of many Americans.

Based on I know of Lee’s desire for reconciliation, if he were alive today, I think he would agree it’s time to retire it.


In Montgomery, Ala., the birthplace of the Confederate States of America, demonstrators Saturday protested a decision by Gov. Robert Bentley to remove the battle flag from a war memorial.

“Right now, this past week with everything that is going on, I feel very much like the Jews must have felt in the very beginning of the Nazi Germany takeover,” one protestor told the Associated Press. He added that “there is a concerted effort to wipe people like me out, to wipe out my heritage and to erase the truths of history.”

It’s outrageous that he would compare those who want to remove a stain from our past with Nazi Germany’s racist regime because America’s apartheid movement has included many who identify with that evil episode in the world’s history.

Here’s an example. Three years ago, when I worked for the AP in Frankfort, I covered a rally on the Capitol steps by neo-Nazis who were joined by a Ku Klux Klan group. The swastika and the Stars and Bars flew side by side.

About 200 counter-demonstrators heard white supremacists say they were not a hate group, but a civil rights group, yet the rhetoric was hateful.

While Nazis and Klansmen shouted, “God hates homosexuals,” Victoria King of Lawrenceburg held aloft a message of Christian love — a sign with words of a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is darkness, let me sow light.”


The light of liberty cannot be forever hidden under a dark shroud.

Fifty years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., led another rally on the steps of Alabama’s Capitol steps, not far from where another Montgomery memorial today celebrates a better legacy — that of the civil rights movement.

“The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.

It is well that we remember those words as we celebrate the birth of our republic this weekend. America has not always been the shining City on a Hill that our forebears envisioned, but it was and is the right vision, and we should expect nothing less.

Christianity, Islam and understanding

Published Feb. 28, 2015

Following the horrific murders of innocent Americans by jihadists, the president went on television and said “Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country” and should be respected and not feared or blamed for what happened.

Millions of Muslims in America and around the world were just as “appalled and outraged” as the rest of us were by those evil acts, he said.

“These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith, and it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that,” the president said. “Islam is peace.”

Some of you might be surprised to learn that the president who made those remarks was George W. Bush, and that he made them less than a week after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

President Barack Obama has continued the war on terror. He gave the order to kill Osama bin Laden, took out many of Al Qaeda’s top leaders with drone strikes and carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is neither Islamic in the normal sense nor a state.

Like Bush, Obama has been careful to make a distinction between ordinary Muslims, who make up a quarter of the world’s people, and the religious extremists whose understanding of Islam is as different from that of most Muslims as the Ku Klux Klan’s understanding of Christianity is from that of most Christians.

Speaking at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, Obama took what I thought was a Christian stance against pride (the original sin) when he said that we shouldn’t “get on our high horse” and think that violence committed in the name of religion is unique to others. He mentioned Christian attempts to justify atrocities committed during the Inquisition, the Crusades, American slavery and the Jim Crow era in the South by saying that throughout history, some people have “committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

It didn’t matter that he made this statement in the context of his strong condemnation of the Islamic State as “a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism” against religious minorities, although he might have strengthened his argument if he had specifically mentioned that Christians have been the minorities most victimized by this cult.

All some listeners heard was that he was bringing up the Crusades again (as liberal secularists almost always do), and that he was comparing some Christians to Islamic jihadists.

Within moments, what was trending on social media were the same tired untruths about the president having been brought up as a Muslim and being anti-Christian. It doesn’t matter to these people that he never knew his father, a Muslim convert to atheism before Barack was born, nor that it was a Catholic school, not an Islamic one, that the future president attended in Indonesia for two years. And there was the same tired arguments about the true nature of Islam.

Many conservative evangelical Christians don’t want to hear that jihadism is an aberration. Misled by celebrities such as Bill O’ Reilly and the Rev. Franklin Graham — who has called Islam an “evil religion” — they think Muslims are the enemies of Christians.

I’m a conservative evangelical Christian myself, and I think Graham and those who think like he does are wrong.

It’s true that Muslims don’t believe that Jesus, whom they call Isa, is God incarnate, or the “Son of God.” Nor do they believe he was executed on a Roman cross.

Based on what I’ve read from those like Ihsan Bagby, a scholar of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, and Shirin Taber, an Iranian-American evangelical Christian and author of “Muslims Next Door,” I was surprised by the similarities between the two faiths.

Here are a few.

Muslims believe Jesus is the Messiah — the herald of the last days — who will usher in a kingdom of peace and intercede for his people at the time of judgment.

They revere his mother, Mary, and believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

They believe he was the only man who never sinned, and that he performed miracles, including raising people from the dead.

They believe the first five books of the Bible, the Psalms and the New Testament are God’s “inspired word,” and they refer to Christians and Jews as “people of the book,” indicating a common religious heritage among all the Abrahamic faiths.

“Allah” is the Arab word for God, and it is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims.

I’m astounded when I hear some people say Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians and Jews, or that they worship Mohammed, the Prophet, or that Allah is a “moon god,” or some other nonsense.

Maybe, before we are critical of someone else’s religion, we should first try to understand it a little better — not that we should ignore differences.

I believe, as C.S. Lewis did, that there is some truth in all religions, and that, where other religions differ from orthodox Christianity, they are in error. But every one of us is in error to some extent. As the Apostle Paul said, we see through a glass darkly.

I also believe that in discussing matters of faith, we should be open-minded and, perhaps even more importantly, openhearted.

Thomas Merton, who was certainly no syncretist, said: “If I insist on giving you my truth, and never stop to receive your truth in return, then there can be no truth between us.”

That seems to me the Christian way to have a dialogue with people of other faiths.

Honestly, Abe Lincoln did not say that

Saturday, November 22, 2014

“The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it’s difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine.” — Abraham Lincoln

This satirical “quotation” is one I recently posted on Facebook for laughs.

It’s a tribute to the sagacity of America’s greatest president that many of us want to give Lincoln credit for things he didn’t say when did say so much that is worth repeating.

I’m usually careful about verifying the authenticity of anything I read on the Internet, but a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t careful enough.

In my Nov. 9 column, I wrote about what it means to be a “Lincoln Republican.” I included this quote attributed to Lincoln about the dangers to democracy caused by the stratification of wealth:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

I attempted to verify its authenticity and learned it was included in a letter to a Col. William F. Elkins on Nov. 21, 1864.

It reflected Heather Cox Richardson’s description of Lincoln’s views in her history of the Republican Party, “To Make Men Free.” She describes the Kentucky of Lincoln’s youth as a place where the slaveholding aristocracy made it hard for men like his father to get ahead because the wealthy owned the best land and controlled the government and its laws.

In 1816, the Lincolns moved north of the Ohio River, where the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had established a land of opportunity by prohibiting slavery and primogeniture, the tradition of a landowner bequeathing all of his property to the eldest son to keep large estates intact. The Republican Party was later founded there on such egalitarian ideals.

The quote also mirrored Lincoln’s speech of Dec. 1, 1861, in which he weighed the importance of labor and capital: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” Lincoln said. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

It turns out, however, that the wealth quote was a fabrication, though an old one.

Tom Hall, a history enthusiast, raised the red flag. In an email the day after my Sunday column, he said the quote seemed “a little too prescient, as if old Abe could see 30 or so years into the future to the day of the big railroads, Standard Oil and the Carnegie steel mills. In other words, this smells like the ‘quote’ is an Internet fraud, and you fell for it.”

Did I ever.

This is what, a website that researches information on the Internet to determine its veracity, said about the supposed letter of 1864: “These words did not originate with Abraham Lincoln … they appear in none of his collected writings or speeches, and they did not surface until more than 20 years after his death (and were immediately denounced as a ‘bold, unflushing forgery’ by John Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary). This spurious Lincoln warning gained currency during the 1896 presidential election season (when economic policy, particularly the USA’s adherence to the gold standard, was the major campaign issue), and ever since then it has been cited and quoted by innumerable journalists, clergymen, congressmen, and compilers of encyclopedias.

So I’m not the first journalist who fell for it. But that doesn’t make it less inexcusable.

I owe you an apology for being so easily taken in, and will be more diligent next time.

The majority isn’t always right

Saturday, February 1, 2014

State Sen. Jimmy Higdon got a surprise recently when he got the first results back from a survey he had published in The Kentucky Standard and other newspapers in his 14th District, which includes Nelson, Marion, Spencer and Casey counties and a little part of Jefferson.

The Lebanon Republican talked with me about the survey when I met him at Tom Pig’s one Saturday last month, a few days after the start of the 2014 legislative session.

The survey showed that more than two-thirds said they were against a statewide smoking ban in Kentucky, and a similar majority favored making medicinal marijuana legal in the state. It also showed that nearly seven in 10 respondents thought some felony records should be expunged, or made to disappear.

Higdon admitted his poll wasn’t “scientific.” That is, it wasn’t a random sampling of a large enough number to have a low margin of error.

He found it interesting that it was contrary to other polling on the issue.

In October and November 2013, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky surveyed 1,551 adults in a study with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percent. It showed that 65 percent — including 38 percent of smokers — want smoking banned in public places.

The results provide support for House Bill 173, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat, and Rep. Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican.

Recently, the issue was discussed on “Kentucky Tonight” with Bill Goodman. The guests were Dr. Shawn Jones and Ashli Watts (the wife of Nelson County Judge-Executive Dean Watts’ nephew) of the Smoke-Free Kentucky Coalition, Jim Waters of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions and Ken Moellman, spokesman for Northern Kentucky Choice.

Jones emphasized that secondhand smoke is a health hazard that should be regulated like any other occupational safety threat. Watts said a smoking ban is good for business. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce overwhelmingly supports it. Waters and Moellman made the argument that a public smoking ban suppresses individual liberty.

But does it? Smokers have a right to smoke. They don’t have a right to smoke around people who are where they have a right to be and don’t want to be around it. And smokers don’t have a right to endanger the health of their coworkers.

Moellman said people who don’t want to be exposed to tobacco smoke can choose

businesses that don’t allow it. But in some small towns, people don’t have many options for eating out or for employment.

Whether or not the majority favors it, a public smoking ban is right.

On the other two issues Higdon mentioned, I’m cautious. I don’t have a problem with doctors prescribing marijuana to counter the side effects of chemotherapy or help AIDS patients, but I’m afraid that allowing it for any ailment will lead to abuse, as it has in California and other places. As for expunging felony records, I would want to know if a felon lived across the road from my elderly parents or my young niece. I think a better approach would be to seal, rather than remove, only Class D felony records that don’t involve violence or sex crimes, and only when the felon has served his time and the victim has no objection.

It’s important for legislators to consider public opinion, but they should keep in mind that the majority isn’t always right, and the people elected them to be well-informed deciders, not delegates.

Edmund Burke memorably expressed this when he told a group of British electors in 1774 that a representative owes his constituents “not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

They also must keep in mind, though, that Burke was not re-elected to Parliament.


Ruling doesn’t infringe on religious liberty

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Within hours of the decision by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II that Kentucky law barring recognition of same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, the politicians started piling on.

It must be an election year.

Four couples, including Jim Meade and Luke Barlowe of Bardstown, sued the state, claiming that a 1998 statute and a 2004 state constitutional amendment invalidating same-sex marriages performed legally in other states violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Heyburn ruled in favor of the plaintiffs Wednesday, saying laws that “treat gay and lesbian couples differently in a way that demeans them” deny them equal protection under the Constitution.

The reactions were swift.

“Today’s ruling is an important step forward in the march toward recognition of all marriages under the law and full equality in our commonwealth,” said liberal Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Louisville.

Martin Cothran of the conservative Family Foundation denounced the decision.

“Kentucky marriage policy will now be dictated from places like Boston and San Francisco,” Cothran said. “This decision puts Kentucky voters on notice that if their reasons for defining marriage as between a man and a woman don’t correspond with the political ideology of liberal judges, their votes don’t count.”

Cothran said this despite the fact that Heyburn is a Louisville Republican who was appointed to the federal bench 22 years ago by President George H.W. Bush on the recommendation of a Louisville Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Remarks by McConnell and the candidates who want to deny him re-election to a sixth term and the chance to become Senate majority leader were more mystifying.

Calling himself a “traditionalist,” McConnell said he would “fight to make sure that Kentuckians define marriage as they see fit, and never have a definition forced on us by interests outside of our state.”

Matt Bevin, McConnell’s challenger for the Republican nomination, blamed the senator for promoting Heyburn, who once worked for McConnell, and accused the judge of “judicial activism.”

The Madison Project, a tea party fundraising group that’s backing Bevin, issued a press release saying that “a McConnell crony forces gay marriage in Kentucky.”

Most baffling was an ambiguous statement by Charly Norton, an aide to Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the Senate race.

She told The Courier-Journal: “Alison has been married for seven years and has stated publicly that she wouldn’t want to deny other couples the opportunity to make that same commitment. She’s also made clear that while the Supreme Court has ruled that state sovereignty applies, churches should not be forced to recognize anything inconsistent with their teachings.”

But nothing in the judge’s decision would require that churches or other religious institutions recognize or perform same-sex marriages. That would be an unconstitutional infringement of religious freedom, he emphasized.

Heyburn wrote at length about the religious ramifications of his decision. Because recognition of same-sex marriage “clashes with many accepted norms in Kentucky — both in society and faith,” he said, he felt a “special obligation to answer some of those concerns.”

This is how he answered them:

“Our religious beliefs and societal traditions are vital to the fabric of society. Though each faith, minister and individual can define marriage for themselves, at issue here are laws that act outside that protected sphere. Once the government defines marriage and attaches benefits to that definition, it must do so constitutionally. It cannot impose a traditional or faith-based limitation upon a public right without a sufficient justification for it. Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons.

“The beauty of our Constitution is that it accommodates our individual faith’s definition of marriage while preventing the government from unlawfully treating us differently. This is hardly surprising since it was written by people who came to America to find both freedom of religion and freedom from it.”

I’m a conservative traditionalist, and, as a Christian, I don’t think governments should force churches to perform same-sex marriages or individuals to approve of anything that violates their conscience. But Heyburn’s ruling doesn’t do any of those things. It simply states that under the Constitution, governments cannot deny persons legal rights that it affords others. It honors religious freedom as well as other civil rights and affirms the constitutional principles of due process and equal protection, and it doesn’t go beyond the question the court was asked to address.

In my layman’s opinion, Heyburn got it right.

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