A federal judge has ordered Kentucky clerk Kim Davis to jail for contempt of court because she has refused, many times over, to comply with multiple court orders—and, you know, uphold the law—and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order,” Judge Daniel Bunning said Thursday. “If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”
In a statement released before she was held in contempt of court, Davis defended her refusals:
It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God's Word. It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Davis' case is just the most recent example of a court ruling against religious liberty claims made by public officials, as Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia Law School, recently told me.
“There is some history of public officials—police, firefighters, people like that—saying they want to be excused from performing certain assignments because of their religious beliefs,” Franke explained. “And the courts have been consistent in saying, ‘No, that’s not a permissible exercise of religious liberty because it shifts the costs of your religious interests onto other third parties.’ [In the case of clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples], we’re talking about the cost of when public officials are saying, ‘I want someone else to do the job I’m required to do.’”
Lawyers representing the couples who petitioned to bring the clerk into compliance had requested a fine, not jail time. Bunning, a George W. Bush appointee who had previously ruled against Davis' religious liberty claim, said Davis would be released once she agreed to comply with his court order. (And the law and basic dictates of her job, which, again, she is free to resign from at any time if it's an intolerable burden to her conscience.)