Friday, October 02, 2015

Updates On God: If God supposes that, then God is a ass.

This week in God, his servant of the servants said that Kim Davis has a right to refuse to do her job.  Not directly of course: the Pope was neither speaking ex cathedra nor using the words "Kim Davis," but he was asked:

if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gays. 

 "Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right," Francis said. "I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right... and if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."

This of course called directly back to Kim Davis, who is upholding (what she views as) the law of Kentucky while ignoring what actually is 'the law of Kentucky.' Kentucky, having become a state, became bound by the US Constitution, which declares that it is the supreme law of the land; a person who claims to follow Kentucky law must follow that clause as well. The US Constitution isn't federal law or the law of some other place. It is the law of every state that claims to be a state.

Does Kim Davis have the right to conscientiously object? Perhaps, perhaps not. There is a lot of thought that must go into allowing a person to conscientiously object to a law. How strong must a belief be before one can ignore the law? How long must the person have held that belief? How directly must the belief be affected by that law? What about the rights of others to have the law enforced? What if your religious belief that you need not follow the law conflicts with my belief that we have a God-ordered duty to do so? What if your failure to follow the laws endangers others?

But those questions need not be answered, at least in Kim Davis' case.  Kim Davis doesn't have to do anything about gay marriage, which is the particular law she is opposing.  That is because Kim Davis doesn't have to be a clerk.

Kim Davis right now is arguing that (a) she should get to be a clerk but (b) she should not have to issue marriage licenses that conflict with her religious beliefs.  A federal judge has said yes a, not b, and that is where this 'conflict' comes from.

There is an easier solution, and it comes from Albert Burneko. In a brilliant (and funny) essay called "How To Hold Elected Office: A Civics Lesson For Meat Suits," Burneko explains how to hold office, if you are a 'meat suit,' the living embodiment of an abstract idea. He has a Q&A in which he explain how 'meat suits' can avoid conflicting with their religious beliefs:

Q: So I can’t choose not to do this stuff, even though I believe it’s wrong? 
A: Sure you can. By resigning. You won’t go to jail for that. Since your concern [ahem] is all about religious freeeeeeeedom—about protecting your own beliefs from government intrusion, and not about using government to impose those beliefs on others—this is the obvious choice, yes? After all, if you’re willing to go to jail on behalf of your freedom of religion, surely you’d also be willing to take a pay cut and a job answering phones at the local church, right? You can be pretty sure you won’t be forced to violate your beliefs there. So: Resign. Problem solved!
The Pope is right, to an extent: people can and should conscientiously object to those laws they see as unjust, irreligious, immoral, or just plain wrong. The fact that Congress (and the 14th Amendment, which, again: it is also a state law because states expressly adopted it) cannot infringe on religious beliefs justifies objecting to a law that infringes religion; the fact that the First Amendment does not prohibit Americans from acting on their conscientiously-held beliefs also justifies that.

But Huffington Post, and lots of people, interpret "conscientious objection" as "the right not to do this thing," or "the right to make other people live the way I want."  Huffington Post described the Pope's comments as a win for Kim Davis, all of which is sloppy thinking.

The Pope didn't say Kim Davis doesn't have to do her job, not even in so many words. He just said people can conscientiously object to laws they believe are immoral.

Not only could Kim Davis object to the immoral law she doesn't like by resigning, she could:

1. Protest the US Supreme Court, or other institutions, by picketing, letter writing, and the like.
2. She could donate money to organizations that are dedicated to her belief.
3. She could (as Burneko also says) run for an office that could change the law.
4. She could move to a country where there is no gay marriage (Iraq, Lesotho, and Chad are on that list.)

That's just off the top of my head.  Those are hard, though, and time-consuming, and expensive, and may require you to wear a burka, in the latter cases. Easier is sitting in your office with the blinds drawn redrafting marriage licenses, and appearing on TV with Mike Huckabee.

The intersection of religion (private morals) and law (public morals) will never be an easy one. But it is made worse when people deliberately misunderstand, or seek to misshape, that intersection for their own profit and aggrandizement. God may not want you to issue a marriage license to a specific person, but I'm pretty sure He also doesn't want you to still get paid for not doing your job.

PS: On the subject of who God supports and what policies God likes, what do you suppose Republicans make of that open quote from Pope Francis?

Or this one:

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