Kim Davis is a Christian woman sitting in a Kentucky jail tonight because she will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Although Davis may be partially mistaken on how her constitutional rights apply to the powers of her governmental office, either way America must not become a place where well-meaning Christians are sent to jail for refusing to violate their conscience.
To summarize our earlier reports: Davis was elected as a Democrat as the county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. After the Supreme Court handed down Obergefell v. Hodges, Davis made the decision not to issue any marriage licenses from her office to avoid issuing them to same-sex couples. Several people then filed a lawsuit against her; she refused to follow a federal court order to issue the licenses; there has been an ensuing court battle; and this week, Judge David Bunning of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky held Davis in contempt of court and ordered her thrown behind bars.
Davis has been divorced three times. One of her mothers-in-law was a devout Christian whose dying wish four years ago was for Davis to attend church. Davis explained in a statement that she started attending a Bible-believing church. “There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.” She became a born-again Christian, remarried, became active in her church, and leads a Bible study at the local jail.
Regarding homosexuals, Davis declares, “I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will.” On this controversy, “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,” she adds.
As Breitbart News’s previous analysis discussed, Davis’s First Amendment rights should protect her from personally participating in same-sex marriage, but it is very unlikely that they extend to using her governmental power to order the deputies in her office not to issue any marriage licenses simply because those licenses include her name.
But Judge Bunning overreacted. A federal judge has many tools at his disposal to enforce his orders. Holding a person in contempt and ordering that the punishment be incarceration is a judge’s “nuclear option,” the most extreme weapon in his arsenal.
Davis’s mistake appears to be an honest mistake regarding the law spurred by conscience, not motivated by ill will or brazen defiance. He could simply have ordered Davis’s non-objecting deputies to begin issuing licenses over her objection, or some accommodation such as ordering marriage licenses to be printed without Davis’s name (which is what Davis has been requesting).
It was not necessary for the judge to make his very next step to throw her in jail without clear warning.
This unfortunate episode was the predictable result of the Supreme Court’s decision to redefine the institution of marriage. Millions of Americans have profound beliefs regarding marriage and will not surrender those beliefs to any court—including the Supreme Court—no matter the cost. However, if this situation is to be resolved, America must never become a place where peaceful people of faith are sent to prison for adhering to their millennia-old beliefs.
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.