Dissenters have a right to acts of religious conscience

James L. Hood
James L. Hood

Editorial writer Jacalyn Carfagno’s recent column asserts that public officials who cannot in good religious conscience carry out their duties should accept the consequences of playing the martyr and resign.

Her argument makes no reference to federal and state constitutions and laws requiring all laws to be administered in a manner least restrictive to religious freedom. She does so, I presume, because her central concern is ensuring an acceptance of the justness and beneficial nature of state-sanctioned gay marriage and gay adoption.

This is revealed in the identity of those she identifies as needing to resign public office — County Clerk Kim Davis and Family Court Judge Mitchell Nance who have religious objections to state sanctioned gay marriage — and in the identity of those she ignores, such as President Barack Obama and Gov. Steve Beshear who have committed the same offense but in pursuit of gay rights.

Carfagno argues that people like Davis and Nance need to accept “martyrdom” as dissenters from state and national legal norms.

But, to my knowledge, neither she nor the Herald-Leader have ever made such an argument regarding Obama who refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (and several other laws) and even made up law as he went along in pursuit of his understanding of justice and righteousness.

Nor did it object to Beshear’s refusal to take action under Kentucky’s religious-freedom law to accommodate both gay couples seeking marriage licenses and Davis’ wish to not sign marriage licenses for gays.

Ironically, the end result of Carfagno’s approach is to further erode respect for law. The other end result is to continue obfuscating the heart of the matter: the wisdom or lack of same in establishing gay marriage as a societal standard.

This effort includes suppressing considerations of the strength or lack of same of the five justices’ concurring arguments in the Obergefell decision, justices whom the four dissenting justices accused of judicial fiat.

In 1993, a near-unanimous Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was strongly supported by President Bill Clinton, reiterating the sense of the nation that the government must accommodate religion whenever possible.

When elements of the gay community realized such a stance could offer gay marriage opponents a “get-out-of-jail-free-card” the consensus fell apart.

The reality is that the two value sets, the principles underlying gay marriage and straight marriage as institutions are incompatible and denials of the validity of the other. I am not aware of the paper ever printing a description of the differences or an assessment or debate of the opposing arguments beyond visceral arguments about being loving or hateful.

Instead, the editorial writer calls for traditional Christians to accept the law, become martyrs when necessary, and get out of the public square.

In doing so, Carfagno acts like the college students today who, in the name of freedom and justice, denounce all those who do not think like them and insist such people do not have a right to speak their minds, or in this instance a lawful right to accommodation.

James L. Hood, of Nicholasville, is a retired state government worker who has taught American and Kentucky history.

At issue: Column by Herald-Leader editorial writer Jacalyn Carfagno, “‘Martyrs’ at public trough skate past consequences”