The Kim Davis Saga in Rowan County, Ky., should serve as a key lesson to all public officials who take an oath to perform their duties on behalf of the entire public constituency they serve.
Davis took that oath to serve as county clerk. One of her duties is to issue marriage licenses to those who request them. The highest court in the land then decreed that gay couples are entitled to the same rights of marriage as straight couples.
That doesn’t comport with Davis’s Christian values, she said. She refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples and now she’s been ordered to jail by a federal judge.
Public officials take an oath to serve everyone. Their oath is a secular one. One’s faith has no bearing on whether they should perform their duties.
This does sound familiar to those of us old enough to remember a controversy 55 years ago involving a young candidate for president of the United States. Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kennedy was his party’s nominee and was campaigning to become the first Roman Catholic ever elected to the presidency.
Questions arose during that campaign about Kennedy’s ability to fulfill the oath he would take if he were elected. Would he be loyal to the U.S. Constitution or, some wondered, to the Vatican? Some die-hard conspiracy theorists conjectured that he would be taking orders from the pope.
Sen. Kennedy then decided to settle the issue once and for all. He came to Texas and, speaking to a Protestant gathering of clergy, made a solemn vow: He would follow the Constitution and if in the highly unlikely event he encountered an issue that contradicted the teachings of the church and he could not act on that issue, he would resign the presidency.
And then he added: “I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.”
He won the 1960 election, took his oath and as near as anyone can tell was loyal to the U.S. Constitution.
Kim Davis cannot perform the duties of her office. She says they conflict with her faith.
She needs to quit that public office.