I was getting all set to write a post about how the stand-off between Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was still making news and what both Ms. Davis and our fascination with shiny objects said about us as a nation, but Josh Marshall beat me to it.
…her only real choice in line with her religious beliefs is to resign her position so as not to violate those beliefs – even though it was a good paying job she inherited from her mother and plans to pass on to her son. But Davis doesn’t want to give [up] her job! Who does? She wants a job enforcing the public laws. But there’s a public law she doesn’t want to enforce, which means she really can’t do the job without violating her religious beliefs. But she doesn’t have the courage of her convictions that would allow her to quit her job. It’s a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. So she wants to be able to keep her job but just not do part of it, sacrifice for her religious beliefs but also hold on to the job. This is never what religious liberty has meant in any context ever.
In a way it reminds me of Inherit the Wind, the 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, about the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, that pitted the teaching of evolution against hard-core bible-believing. (It was made into a film in 1960 with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.) On stage it is an epic clash between two very strong principles in American life then and now: respect for a person’s faith and the protection of their right to practice it, and, as Henry Drummond, the attorney for the defense, put it, a person’s right to think. The defenders of Ms. Davis are making her and her situation to be the same as that of John Scopes and Darwin verus the Bible.
As a drama, Inherit the Wind is a really good piece of theatre, and there are many parallels to the situation of Ms. Davis and Bertram Cates, the character in the play who defies the law. In reality, though, John Scopes set about to defy the Tennessee law that banned the teaching of evolution in the public schools so that the law would be put on trial. It was done in cahoots with the ACLU and the local authorities, Mr. Scope’s liberty was never at stake, and everybody pretty much conceded that it was a stunt with the biggest names in celebrity law — Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan — providing the star power. Lawrence and Lee used the setting and the moral of the story to make a case against the McCarthy era.
How times have changed. Ninety years ago John Scopes purposefully broke the law to put an end to it. It was a stunt, but it had a noble purpose. It’s really hard to make the case that Kim Davis has the same goal in mind. She is no John Scopes, and Mike Huckabee is no William Jennings Bryan.
I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and grant that she really does believe that her job as the county clerk does allow her to insert her personal faith into the law of the land and that she would rather not be the cause celebre of the Religious Right and the source of what passes for news and considered discourse in our society today. But America is also the land of opportunity and it’s pretty hard not to be cynical and note that where there’s controversy and someone taking a stand against the tide, there’s money to be made, and wedding cakes, flowers, pizza, and marriage licenses can be turned into a money stream from GoFundMe.