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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Kim Davis -- A Civilly Disobedient Hero Or A Rebel Without A Cause?

People may view Kim Davis, the Rowan County Kentucky clerk who defied a U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively legalizing gay marriage nationwide and who stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June by what she claims is "God's authority," as a hero for her cause, but I disagree. I believe her actions are not in line with the tenants of righteous civil disobedience.

I understand why Davis claims her right to civil disobedience -- the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government. But, civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. She has simply used the system to advance her goals.

I see Davis's real goal is that her personal rejection of same-sex marriage should extend to all in an office bound by a decision of the Supreme Court; thus, Davis refuses to uphold the system of justice most revered in the United States of America.

After a federal judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that order, U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning threw her in jail. This ignited a fierce debate across America concerning religious liberty versus the civil rights afforded to all U.S. citizens.

Howard Zinn -- historian, activist, and Upton Sinclair Award winner -- wrote ...

"There may be many times when protesters choose to go to jail, as a way of continuing their protest, as a way of reminding their countrymen of injustice. But that is different than the notion that they must go to jail as part of a rule connected with civil disobedience.

"The key point is that the spirit of protest should be maintained all the way, whether it is done by remaining in jail, or by evading it. To accept jail penitently as an accession to 'the rules' is to switch suddenly to a spirit of subservience, to demean the seriousness of the protest... In particular, the neo-conservative insistence on a guilty plea should be eliminated."

(Howard Zinn. Disobedience and Disorder: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order, cited in Paul F. Power  On Civil Disobedience in Recent American Democratic Thought. March 1970)

Davis' office issued marriage licenses while she was in jail, but the licenses did not include her name. Bunning ruled those licenses were valid and released Davis on the condition that she not interfere with her employees.

Yet, when Davis returned to work last week, she personally confiscated the marriage licenses and replaced them. The new licenses say they were issued not under the authority of the county clerk, but "pursuant to federal court order."

It is evident to me that Kim Davis lied to facilitate her release from jail and used the opportunity to accomplish her personal, religious objectives. In effect, she demeaned the purpose of her protest by manipulating the law and by taking state and federal matters into her own hands. I believe her recent actions are criminal.

How can a government official (with a yearly salary of $80,000 paid by the citizenry) blatantly usurp power and be said to be exercising civil disobedience?

The lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have written that the validity of the altered licenses is "questionable at best," and the new licenses bring "humiliation and stigma" to the gay couples who receive them. They asked Judge Bunning to order Davis' office to reissue the licenses. If Davis interferes, the lawyers say Bunning should place her office in a receivership for the purposes of issuing marriage licenses.

(Adam Beam and Claire Galofaro. "Kentucky clerk could head back to court over licenses." Associated Press. MSN. September 22, 2015.)

Civil disobedience by Kim Davis? Her resistance is based upon her Biblical beliefs versus the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage. Davis's actions show the need for the often cited "wall between church and state." Her issue is about religion views and the disdain of those, like her, who want more religion in government.

Most often, important acts of civil disobedience involve life-threatening injustices. The decision of the court concerning same-sex marriage does not threaten the life and limb of Americans. It is philosophical -- at the most, it is a moral issue.

Make no mistake, any civil disobedience here is not comparable to attempts to preserve life and liberty. In that respect it is not akin to Gandhi's resistance to British rule in India, to Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent civil rights movement, to Nelson Mandela's fight against apartheid in South Africa, or to student sit-ins against the Vietnam War.

I do not see Kim Davis as a new Rosa Parks refusing to cave to unspeakable injustice. In fact, I think she is acting in opposition to such heroes. Civil disobedience is a precious right that Davis may certainly exercise. Yet, when she chooses to usurp the authority of the courts, to act as God's interpreter of justice, and to misuse her power in her position as a public servant, she is wrong.

In short, not until all people live under conditions in which their human rights are fully met is government acting democratically. Perhaps, Davis could be the model clerk she so desperately seeks to be by simply doing her job and obeying the courts. Or, she has other options -- she could resign or stay in jail. True leaders of civil disobedience may endure such measures. 

For example, Nelson Mandela's actions landed him in prison for nearly three decades and made him the face of the antiapartheid movement both within his country and internationally. I say this with no wish that Davis be incarcerated for any length because I think her purpose pales in the face of that of Mandela's.
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