Photo: Booking Photo from the Carter County Detention Center

Within the past few days, Rowan County, Kentucky has become ground zero of a nationwide attempt to override the U.S. Supreme Court's decision earlier in June that upheld the national right to same-sex marriage. It is the flashpoint of a culture war that threatens to take us away from a Constitutional democracy and toward an American theocracy.

In response to the Court's ruling in Obergefell, Kim Davis, who ran as a Democrat and elected last year as the clerk of the 23,000 resident county, ordered her office not to issue any marriage licenses at all in order to avoid providing licenses to same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage violates Davis' religious beliefs.

After Davis refused to provide licenses, her office was sued by Rowan County residents, including two same-sex couples and two heterosexual couples who demanded the right to get married.  U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis to provide the licenses and she refused, appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Without comment, the high court refused a hearing on the matter and the case went back to Judge Bunning who offered not to jail Davis if she would accept an accommodation of allowing her deputy clerks to issue the licenses without her interference.  Davis refused to agree to these terms and Judge Bunning jailed Davis for contempt of court.

What Davis hopes to achieve is not merely accommodation for her religious beliefs – she wants the power to control marriage within the county in a manner consistent with her religious views. With Davis incarcerated, county clerk deputies began issuing marriage licenses to both heterosexual and same-sex couples much to the consternation of her attorney Mat Staver, who said the licenses are "not worth the paper they are written on" because Davis didn't approve them.

Because the county clerk is an elected position, Davis cannot simply be fired. She would need to lose an election or be impeached by the state legislature, and neither scenario is likely given the current political climate.

While there have been a number of cases involving small wedding-related business owners, such as photographers and cake bakers, who refused to provide services for same-sex weddings, the Davis case is the first time that a public official has been jailed when they refused to allow their government office to participate in licensing same-sex weddings.

During rallies and discussions over the weekend, Davis supporters continued to argue that Judge Bunning had illegitimately stripped Davis of her "religious liberty" when she refused to follow the law in her capacity as a government official.

Practically, this is what Davis' argument would mean:

Let's say a county zoning official who belongs to "the church of the spaghetti noodle" or some other non-Christian religion refuses to provide a Baptist church with a building permit because it would violate his religious beliefs. Would an appellate verdict, maybe even a Supreme Court decision, favoring Kim Davis' right to refuse same-sex marriage licenses within her county provide a precedent that would protect the right to deny the permit? It would.

Davis may be well-meaning in her view, but she is seeking power by working to create a precedent that would make her the final arbiter of who gets to get married in her county. What Davis wants to do is engage in religious oppression against those who do not share her religious beliefs, not preserve what her supporters erroneously call "religious liberty." In short, Rowan County could become a "Christian" caliphate if Davis were able to work enough of her religious beliefs into the law.In short, Rowan County could become a "Christian" caliphate if Davis were able to work enough of her religious beliefs into the law. This is the type of local politics that allowed Jim Crow laws to exist for decades in the South. [pullquote align="right" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]This is the type of local politics that allowed Jim Crow laws to exist for decades in the South.[/pullquote]

To put it another way, if Kim Davis were to "win", her case would give every other government official the right to do the same thing, which is to use the power of their political positions to eliminate access to rights simply because it would violate the beliefs of the official.

Davis has a right to refuse to violate her conscience, but she was offered a  reasonable accommodation by the judge when he said her deputies could sign the licenses and she would not have to do so. Davis refused to allow others to sign the licenses, and as such, the court has no option but to find her in contempt and either jail her or place U.S. Marshalls at the doors of her office to prevent her from entering.

Davis and her attorney are arguing that she alone has the right to say who gets a marriage license in her county. This kind of centralized power is unwarranted in a constitutional democracy, and would be frightening to Davis' most ardent supporters if these kinds of decisions belonged to somebody with whom they disagreed on matters of faith.

Gabriel Arana, in an editorial in the Huffington Post, made a very astute observation.  While Davis' attorney has compared her with a list of famous conscientious objectors, in reality, "Davis is more like the bus driver than Rosa Parks."  Kim Davis, in her role of a state agent, is more "like former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who famously stood in the doors at the University of Alabama to try to stop racial integration from taking place."

Given that the Supreme Court turned down Davis' appeal, and Davis has continued to refuse to grant the licenses, Davis will remain in the headlines as her supporters claim her as a so-called "prisoner of conscience."

Certainly there are many religious beliefs that public officers may hold personally but do not attempt to impose on the public. For instance, Seventh-day Adventists and Orthodox Jews don't attempt to enforce laws requiring abstinence from work between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday. They will, of course, seek accommodation if they are asked to work during that time, but they don't ask that their governments shut down in honor of their observance.

The United States Constitution, and its precursor document, the Declaration of Independence, provided an odd-sounding, but very palpable "right to be wrong." It recognized that there are things that are between the individual and God and with which the state has no right to interfere.

Before the formation of the United States, churches and government were not separate. Unlike the modern idyllic concept that this time was an era of peace, security, and morality, it was quite the opposite. Not unlike modern governments that attempt to merge religion with government, the churches found that not everybody who lived in their nations wanted to follow their religious codes. So churches asked governments to punish people who dissented from the religious laws or didn't obey them properly.

This led to a period of significant persecution and some estimate that millions of people were either killed or imprisoned simply because they were perceived as breaking the religious laws.

That is not a time in the far distant past and is in fact contemporary as there are many places in the world with theocratic forms of government. It is not hard to envision that under the right circumstances, perhaps even fomenting as the result of this case, the type of religious oppression that this nation was founded to avoid could happen again if some of the heated rhetoric surrounding the Davis case persists.

America is protected by the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment, passed through to the states by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment, but these are precisely the legal texts that are under the most focused attack by well-meaning Christians who feel that their beliefs place them above the law and give them the right to dictate the actions of others. They believe that laws must be made to accommodate their right to impose their beliefs on others. This is what is predicted in the book, The Great Controversy, written in 1884 by Ellen G. White.

"The founders of the nation wisely sought to guard against the employment of secular power on the part of the church, with its inevitable result– intolerance and persecution. The Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States." Only in flagrant violation of these safeguards to the nation's liberty, can any religious observance be enforced by civil authority," pg 442.

White predicts a coming together of Protestant Churches in an effort to halt the "state of religious declension" and "ungodliness."  This combination to attack societal immorality will lead to efforts to waive doctrinal differences and secure religious uniformity.

She writes, "Charles Beecher, in a sermon in the year 1846, declared that the ministry of 'the evangelical Protestant denominations' is 'not only formed all the way up under a tremendous pressure of merely human fear, but they live, and move, and breathe in a state of things radically corrupt, and appealing every hour to every baser element of their nature to hush up the truth, and bow the knee to the power of apostasy. Was not this the way things went with Rome? Are we not living her life over again? And what do we see just ahead? Another general council! A world's convention! Evangelical alliance, and universal creed!'–Sermon on 'The Bible a Sufficient Creed,' delivered at Fort Wayne, Indiana, Feb. 22, 1846. When this shall be gained, then, in the effort to secure complete uniformity, it will be only a step to the resort to force.

"When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result." pp. 444-445.

The Great Controversy scenario may seem a long way off, if not impossible, when the religious community that sees itself losing the "culture wars" but the more society changes, the more it is clear that the pendulum which has swung to the left in the last two to three years may just as easily swing to the right with religious forces in control. The sentiments expressed by Charles Beecher in 1846 are still advocated today.

If we have learned anything from watching the shift from 2008's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in California to nationwide legalization in 2015, it is that massive, almost unimaginable, changes can happen extremely quickly.
Last week, Mike Huckabee, who is a current candidate for President, a fact easy to forget given the polling figures, and a former evangelical pastor, claimed the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction over marriage and that "Government is not God. No man – and certainly no unelected lawyer – has the right to redefine the laws of nature or of nature's God."

Although Christianity has often asserted, especially since the birth of the Moral Majority in the early 1980s, that it has some kind of claim to the politics of the world, this is not a scriptural reality. I remember that I used to get my own inspiration from Ken Nugent. When Jesus was led before Pilate by the religious leaders of the day on trumped up charges of trying to overthrow the Roman government, Jesus told him, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place."  John 18:36 (NIV).

Despite the claims that conservative religion has fallen victim to the left, the scenario of a return to the unity of church and state that defined the Middle Ages seems increasingy plausible as Christians adopt the rhetoric of political power, claiming that the government has gone too far away from God and that the time has come to severely limit, or even do away with, the freedoms granted to citizens by the Constitution, the Courts, and the democratic system of government. What we are seeing in Rowan County, Kentucky may be just the beginning.




  1. David Wilson says:

    The inability of this article to discern the difference between a religious law and a just law proscribing immoral behaviour in one sense or another is disturbing. When Adventists were to go out and vote to a man for prohibition of alcohol, according to our own prophetic texts, were we being encouraged by the same prophet you cite above to legislate our own decrees? I don't think so. It is sad to see us on the wrong side of liberty and Constitutionality in this matter. Kim Davis is innocent. She is not breaking any law whatsoever. We should be appalled that this innocent woman is in jail, for keeping the only laws that exist governing how she can issue marriage licenses. And we ought to weep that more principles of our Constitution are being repudiated before our eyes. In particular those entirely allocating powers not explicitly given to the Federal Gov. in the Constitution to the States or the People themselves, and also that all power to make laws is given to the legislative branch alone. How can we miss this?

  2. Kim Davis was in contempt of a court order.

    • David Wilson says:

      A court order that commanded her to do something against the Constitution and laws of her state to honor an immoral and unConstitutional action of the Supreme Court. It all boils down to one question: which is higher in authority the Constitution or 5 rogue, partisan lawyers on the Supreme Court. It shouldn't even be a contest in our minds. There is no "right" to do moral wrong. She has withheld no rights from same-sex couples, for they have no right to marry. It is an impossibility. It sounds so definitive to say that Christianity has no claim on the politics of the world. Do you mean then to say then, that Christians have no civic duty, no responsibility to give righteous input into the laws and governance of their free land, which in harmony with principles of their own religion, gives them the vote? Of course, they do. So, Ellen White, encouraged every Seventh-day Adventist, to a man, to go out and vote in favor of prohibition. And what would she have said about proposition 8? There can be no reasonable doubt, but exactly the same thing. Another principle of the Constitution is being repudiated and someone who is standing against it is being maligned by those who have every reason to know that their freedoms are someday going to be the focal point of unConstitutional governmental action. Bewildering.

      • Essentially Kim Davis made her jurisdiction a law unto itself by claim to an amorphous religious law. She subjugated her constituency to her definition of right and wrong, and in essence created a model of the "Sharia Law" that the right is so concerned about. This is a repudiation of the Constitution.

        • David Wilson says:

          So, what do we do when the Supreme Court makes law, in contradiction of the Constitution? Which is exactly what they have done. Again, I call you back to history, when Adventists were called upon to vote for prohibition to a man, by the voice of the Spirit of Prophecy, were we then being encouraged to impose our own definition of right and wrong on the populace and thus create a "Sharia law", repudiating the Constitution? Will you just ignore the question?

      • Valentina Potter says:

        If the same sex has no right to marry so why did the Supreme Court passed the law. After it was passed that was when the problems started. Before that it was as God intended. No problem then. We abided by God's Will. Life is easier and peaceful if we Follow our Lord. People get the blessings and happiness we follow God's Law.

  3. Richard Edge says:

    Religious laws are the property of their religious denominations. Churches have the right to ex-communicate individuals from their churches for not following their religious laws, but that is where their authority must end.

    The Federal government laws respect the rights of the churches to refuse to grant a religious ceremony, but they are now also respecting and recognizing the rights of a same sex partnership and granting them access to the same financial and political benefits as a heterosexual relationship. Why is this an issue???

    The federal government is not forcing any religious church to perform a ceremony that is against their beliefs. They are simply recognizing the legal rights of 2 consenting same sex adults in the same manner that they would 2 consenting heterosexual adults. If a church doesnt want to recognize a same sex union, they can still refuse to grant the couple the religious ceremony and the federal government will not jail them for this refusal. However, the churches have no right to force the federal government to refuse a civil ceremony. That is not in their jurisdiction not should it be.

  4. John Braxton says:

    Apparently for people like Kim Davis and her supporters, religious liberty only matters for conservative Christians. Everybody else is out of luck.

  5. daniel says:

    This article is a good example of how to turn the truth on its head!

  6. Judy says:

    Thank you for the facts. I have been opposed to her actions from the start and have been perplexed why so many could not see she had broken the law and tried to use her position to force her rightly held religious convictions on others.

  7. Justin says:

    This is by far the best explanation I've read on what is going on. Thank you for this great website.

  8. Christians need to realize that the Book of Revelation warned that the day will come when God's true followers will not be allowed to buy or sell. In order to pave the way for this to happen in our land of the principles of the Constuitution, those principles have to be undermined and gotten rid of first.

    And this is a good way to do that… to have Christians claim that they can decide who or who not to provide service to. The Devil is using a CHRISTIAN to do this, to make it all the more confusing so that other Christians will support it, not realizing they are helping to set the stage for their own demise.

    And that is why I have been against what Kim Davis has done all along.

    They are soon going to be calling for a National Sunday Law, to "get America back to God", because iof "all the immorality". Sunday keeping as the Sabbath is not to be found in the Scriptures at all, it was a false Sabbath instituted by the Roman Catholic Church and they are going to be forcing it upon the whole World, according to the books of Daniel and Revelation. Martin Luther even realized that this was what makes the Pope the Antichrist.

    In the Bible the prophect Daniel said that this Beast power would 'think to change times and laws'. This is referring to the Ten Commandments…. the very Law of God, the Sabbath Day.

    Daniel 7:25 "And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time."

    "The Pope has power to change times, to abrogate laws, and to dispense with all things, even the precepts of Christ." Decretal De Translat. Espiscop. Cap.

    "Sunday is a Catholic institution, and its claims to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles…. From the beginning to the end of Scriptures there is not one single passage which warrants the transfer of weekly public worship from the last day of the week to the first." Catholic Press (Sydney) August 25, 1900.

    "The Christian Sabbath (Sunday) is therefore to this day the acknowledged offspring of the Catholic Church, as spouse of the Holy Ghost, without a word of remonstrance from the protestant world." The Catholic Mirror Sept. 23. 1893

    "The Bible says, Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. The Catholic church says, No! By my divine power I abolish the Sabbath day, and command you to keep the first day of the week. And lo, the entire civilized world bows down in reverent obedience to the command of the holy Catholic church!" Father Enright, C.S.S.R. of the Redemptoral College, Kansas City, History of the Sabbath, p. 802


    "They (the Catholic Church) allege the Sabbath changed into Sunday, the Lord's day, contrary to the Decalogue, as it appear, neither is there any example more boasted of than the changing of the Sabbath day. Great, they say, is the power and authority of the church, since it dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments." Martin Luther, Augsburg Confession of Faith, art. 28.

    “I hope that the last day is at the door. Things could not become worse than the Roman see makes it. It suppresses the commandments of God, it exalts its own commandments above God’s. If this is not Antichrist, then some one else must tell what it is.” – “Luther’s Reformatory Works,” p. 280. Copenhagen: 1883.

    Philipp Melanchthon (Martin Luther's Companion in the Protestant Reformation)

    Philip Melanchthon, on the prophecy on Daniel 7:25, declared: "He [the papal Little Horn] changeth the tymes and lawes that any of the sixe worke dayes commanded of God will make them unholy and idle dayes when he lyste, or of their owne holy dayes abolished make worke dayes agen, or when they changed ye Saterday into Sondaye. . . . They have changed God's lawes and turned them into their owne traditions to be kept above God's precepts."—Exposition of Daniel the Prophete (1545), tr. by George Joye, p. 119.

  9. Rob Jacobs says:

    Lots of people at my church read this article. Thanks for being the voice of reason on this vital religious liberty subject.

%d bloggers like this: