Sunday, October 4, 2015

She ain’t no Rosa Parks

Conservative Christians would have us believe that Rowan County, KY, Clerk Kim Davis is the new Rosa Parks – the Rosa Parks for this century’s fight against the oppression of the faithful. Not only is she no Rosa Parks, she’s got much more in common with those Rosa Parks resisted. In both word and deed, but for the beard, Davis is more ayatollah than freedom rider.

Rosa Parks, for those who forgot, was an African American woman arrested for failing to give up her seat on a public transit bus to a white person. Second class citizen, pays her fare, must sit at the back, and sometimes give up her seat, standing with groceries, on tired feet, in case a white person wanted to sit. Not optional. Not “please give these seats to the disabled and elderly,” where any able young person who doesn’t is rightly judged a jerk. Rosa Parks – as a matter of law –suffered nowhere near ‘separate but equal’ service in the presence of whites. She defied the law which commanded her thus. She resisted the power of state officials to deny her equality. She rejected their abuse of authority to deny her a right equal to the whites to whom she had to yield. 

Kim Davis is no Rosa Parks. Davis is a public official, vested with the power of government to carry out vital functions for the people of Rowan County. Not for some of the people – ALL of the people. She is vested with authority to uphold county, state, and federal laws. Not some laws, at her discretion, which correspond with her personal convictions – ALL those laws. She is free to believe what she likes about gays and lesbians and homosexual marriage. The First Amendment enshrines this freedom for her as for every private citizen, as a matter of personal conscience. The First Amendment burdens government to ensure individuals are protected in the enjoyment of their civil liberties regardless of their faith or lack of it. It protects her and the people of Rowan County in the enjoyment of that same freedom. Among those civil liberties is the liberty to marry. Heterosexual residents of Rowan County have enjoyed that right for a while now. Homosexual residents of Rowan County are now able to enjoy that same civil liberty. Except for Kim Davis.

By denying same sex couples the issuance of marriage licenses, she uses the power of her office to deny them that liberty. The power to issue marriage licenses is a governmental power, not a personal power. It is an authority vested in the office, not in her person. It is a power subject to the county, state, and federal law. It is not her personal power to decide the nature of the law or the constitution. Her personal convictions are not the measure of the law. Her conduct as an official, vested with the authority of the government, is to ensure that the residents of Rowan County enjoy their civil liberties free from religious burden. Her use of this authority to enforce her personal convictions – religious or otherwise – should be rejected as resoundingly as was that of those who denied Rosa Parks.

Enter the new ayatollahs. America deeply identifies as a Christian country. Most of the citizenry identify as Christian. This leads some people – many in positions of governmental power – to believe that their faith should guide their actions, should be a basis for law and policy, and should be the basis for their discretionary use of their authority. Their faith. Creating and applying law accordingly. We must live according to their faith. Our enjoyment of our liberties, according to their faith. These are the new ayatollahs, American-style. They come professing individual rights, citing the constitution, claiming liberty for all, according to their faith. Their Jesus tells them that homosexuality is an abomination. But there’s another Jesus, who eats with the lepers and washes their dead, unafraid that his faith will be tainted by those whom he aids. That Jesus does not deny fish and bread to the hungry even as they are sinners. That Jesus bakes a wedding cake for a gay couple, unafraid that their choices define his own.

The founding constitutionalists were deeply religious. But they were near enough to the corrosive conjoining of religion with political power to recognize individual personal liberty required a strict separation of religious conviction from government authority. They crafted a nation in which it mattered not whether one had faith. Theirs was a vision wherein individuals enjoy equally the freedom to determine their own lives according to their private convictions. If it’s a Christian country, it’s also among the remarkably few to demand that religious conviction remain a matter of private conscience, not a directive of public policy. It matters not whether the entire citizenry enjoys the same faith. It matters only that county clerks, as with all public officials enacting governmental authority, not demand the rest of the citizenry conform to their conscience.

Some say Davis has a right not to be made to violate her faith. True. But she does not have a right to do it in her official capacity as county clerk. No one has a right to be a county clerk. She can adhere to and worship as she believes. In her official capacity as county clerk, it is her responsibility – yes, I said her RESPONSIBILITY – to ensure that the residents of Rowan County are not denied their civil liberties because of someone else’s – including her own – personal convictions to the contrary.

Issue the marriage licenses. That is her responsibility. And, if she cannot reconcile her conscience with her official duty, perhaps she should follow the example of Apostle Matthew who could no longer render unto Caesar, could no longer reconcile his duty as tax collector with his faith. The burden of his faith was his to bear, not his co-workers, not his fellow citizens, not the government to accommodate his public office to his private conscience.

Christina Bellon
Department of Philosophy
Sacramento State


  1. Chris, I like this post a lot, but I'm concerned about why. I really disapprove of Kim Davis' actual views. In my opinion there is not a thing in the world wrong with homosexuality, or gay marriage, and that is really part of why I think Kim Davis had no business denying marriage applications from gay people. But suppose we were talking about something else entirely. Suppose the law required government officials to deny marriage applications to manifestly intterracial couples, and Davis decided on her own to go ahead and grant them instead. She would be my heroine and if you wrote a post arguing that she had a responsibility to deny them I wouldn't like it. I might grudgingly agree that she had a legal responsibility, but I wouldn't agree that she had a moral responsibility, and if her actions triggered a movement that ultimately resulted in allowing intterracial couples to marry, I would celebrate it. So I have to say that a big part of why I agree with you that Kim Davis ain't no Rosa Parks is for a reason you never give, namely that Rosa Parks was on the side of good and Kim Davis is on the side of evil.

    1. Randy, the short answer is that my opinion of her position is not what guides me in making this point. My concern is primarily with the values of the constitutionally constrained democratic government from which her authority originates, which are values that have tended in the long term to err on the side of increased individual liberty and elimination of discrimination and other formal barriers to equality. Her use of that authority to deny individual’s a liberty now extended to them is contrary to the justification of that authority in the first place. My concern is also with raising concerns about her particular understanding of "God's Law", and with the motivation she employs to justify her actions, as "a matter of heaven and hell" and with her "eternal soul". There is just as much evidence that god would be forgiving and would expect his servants to exercise humility in their judgements of others. Her exercise of her official authority to preserve her soul is manifestly not a legitimate motivation of a public official exercising public authority. That manifestly imposes a burden on a select few – those against whom she discriminates with regard to marriage – for the preservation of her soul.

      Your hypothetical is tempting… but it borders on what Stanley Benn calls “conscientious wickedness” where I seek to bring about some good, but the burden of bringing about of that good is completely born by others. It’s a tempting shortcut to social justice to misuse official authority to achieve it – and it’s foolish and unethical to expect to do so without bearing the consequences of the misuse yourself.

      Here’s the thing. If Davis instead were by law required to deny marriage certificates to interracial couples, yet her conscience commanded her to issue them anyway as a matter of justice or morality or good (as opposed to evil), then while I would agree with her and commend her, I would also not expect her to go unpunished, for her resignation not to be demanded, and for her to resign if she were prohibited from issuing the licenses. She should also in her official capacity inform those to whom she was issuing the licenses that these would not be legitimate unless some other change resulted which overturned the law.

      This is one of the central lessons of civil disobedience – you violate the unjust laws to highlight their injustice, to demonstrate the wrongfulness and “evil” of them, that they are contrary to the values for which this constitution stands, etc., but you do so in full expectation of the punishment. What makes civil disobedience a powerful weapon of peaceful change, is that it exposes the immorality and injustice of the law and the punishment attached to the violation. Ask yourself, would you think the civil rights movement could have been so successful where all else had failed over the preceding 100 years of struggle if the student protesters in Montgomery and elsewhere had said to the arresting police – “Or, wait, we could get arrested for this?”

    2. Chris, thanks for that comprehensive and excellent reply. I suppose the only thing I'd want to clarify is this: If I understand you, your entire argument could (should?) be made by someone who strongly approves of Kim Davis' views and behavior. The tone and word choice would be different (unless the author admires ayatollahs); it would exalt her for standing up for her beliefs and be willing to risk losing her job for the principles she believes in. But the same basic conclusions about how she must be dealt with would be drawn. And, by the same token, if my intermarriage example were the reality, you could have written and stood behind a version of this same post, with only the names, the issue and a few choice adjectives changed.

    3. Well sure... but where's the fun in that. Besides, I do believe she's wrong. I also believe those I dub the new ayatollahs are all about imposing their religious beliefs on all of us via the power they have in their official capacities and that this is fundamentally against the very best elements of the core values of this country. As such, it constitutes an illegitimate use of official authority. I'm not saying Kim Davis is abusing her official authority because her personal beliefs are wrong. I'm saying she's abusing the authority of her office in a way that is contrary to core the values of this country -- the protection of individual liberty and equality. That her beliefs are religiously grounded, to some (see Kyle's response below) commentators seems to imply they are somehow special. But she can completely believe everything she believes and do so in utter and complete commitment to them with the same protections against interference as well ALL do. However, it is unacceptable that she uses them as the basis for the discretionary application of her authority.

    4. I'm confused. Nothing in my response below hangs on the fact that her beliefs are religiously grounded. I don't think that it's more important to accommodate religiously grounded conscientious objections than it is to accommodate conscientious objections grounded in non-religious commitments.

    5. Kyle, what would you suggest if Davis's justification for denying marriage licenses to gays and lesbians were grounded in her sincerely held hatred of homosexuals, without any appeal to religion or god?

      My concern is that if its right to allow her accommodations not to do her duly constituted clerical duties because she has a commitment to despising a category of people, then do we also accommodate the police office whose committed racism means he cannot possibly serve in multiracial communities or can't but shoot young black males if he gets near them? Or the professor who believes trans students are a corruption of nature and cannot abide them in her classroom?

      This country ahs a history of specially privileging or protecting (depending on your view) religious convictions, but you seem to want to elevate all conscientious commitments to the same protected status. On the other hand, I believe there should be no such protection for those who occupy official positions and are entrusted with governmental power while acting in their official capacity.

    6. I don't think that's a hard case. If that was her justification; indeed, even if there was really good evidence that was her motivation, then there wouldn't be any reason to provide an accommodation. Hatred and different forms of animus are (I think obviously) different than a sincere commitment to a moral belief that prevents a person from doing things that cooperate with or lend approval to something that, from her point of view, is wrong. A sincere (and non-crazy, even if mistaken) central or core value functions differently than hatred does in the motivational psychology of people, and the latter, but not the former, is rationally and morally blameworthy. Because of these differences, I think there's reason to respect (i.e., accommodate) the former, but not the latter.

      I agree that things are different when it's an elected official using the coercive power of her office to harm others. I don't think that Davis should be able to get away with that and I think it's good she was stopped. But like I said below, under the current arrangement she's not harming anyone.

    7. Kyle, thanks for the effort to distinguish hate from a sincerely held belief or commitment. But I'm not so sure it's a clear cut as you make it out. While researching something I'm writing on civil rights, I read Wallace's inaugural address (here which, while hateful, dangerous, and inversely tyrannical, sounds like a pretty darned sincerely held belief for which he and too many others were willing to live, die, and kill. I'm not so sure some of what those who support Davis -- perhaps even her own more complete articulation of her beliefs -- are not like what you describe as hate, if Wallace's articulation of his beliefs also count as hate. She just relies on god. But as hers appeals to a particular interpretation of Christian scripture which supports her rejection of homosexual marriage (if not homosexuality altogether) so we find a similar appeal in the southern segregationists of old and of today. See the sincere and earnest, while hateful and chillingly ignorant of history, pleas in the name of culture, heritage, and faith not to remove the southern Cross from the South Carolina capitol.

  2. I suspect my reaction may share at least one premise with Randy's. Let me echo him with a concrete example: would you say that what lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom did in 2004 when he was mayor of San Francisco was just as wrong as what Kim Davis did?

    Does it matter at all to your argument that the law shifted under Kim Davis' feet during her time in office?

    Combining the previous two points: if tomorrow you found out that the Supreme Court decided that something your government position required you to do was in fact something that violated your own conscience (the quick and clumsy example I can think of is that next summer Anthony Kennedy decides that the true meaning of being University department chairperson requires performing animal sacrifices, and the California laws need to get out of the dark ages, and pronto), would you resign or comply?

    1. Russell,

      To further complicate the matter, I would say the law did not change. What happened is that the SCOTUS ruled that a certain ban was unconstitutional. The SCOTUS might be mistaken, though in this case, I think their ruling coincides with what she should legally do - but I'm not sure about their rationale; I haven't read the ruling in full, but from what I read, I think they did not get it right.

      In my assessment, what lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom did in 2004 when he was mayor of San Francisco was to apply the law - beginning with the Constitution -, or at least to act in a way that coincides with what a proper application of the law would have required (I'm not sufficiently familiar with the case to assess whether he got it right by accident). However, if I'm in error and Newsom's actions were against the law, then so is the ruling of the SCOTUS, and Davis is acting in accordance to the law. That's because there was no legal change - the question is interpretation.

      Still, one may argue that long before the ruling - and before she read the Constitutional arguments against sex discrimination on marriage -, Davis was doing what she believed the law was, and given that she was no legal expert, her error is epistemically justifiable, and maybe morally so. I don't know when she first read an explanation as to why the Constitution bans sex discrimination on the matter.

      More generally, there is in the end a problem of legal interpretation by people who aren't legal experts on matters where the legal experts are divided, and when the people who need to know what the law says are not in a epistemic position to assess the matter by themselves. Do they have a moral obligation to learn more about the law, and go by their own interpretation? Maybe if it's the law regarding their specific duties, they generally do - but there is the question of how much time they have to dedicate to the matter, how others will react (e.g., by firing an official who correctly applies the Constitution against mistaken doctrine of the SCOTUS), etc.

      As for the sacrifices, the solution is not difficult in that case, since it's apparent (no legal expertise required, beyond basic knowledge) that the law does not require that she performs animal sacrifices. She could - and should - reject the demand on grounds of obvious common sense, and Kennedy and others who back him up would be properly removed by Congress (not that they would actually say that, of course).

      (yes, granted, you may think it's just as obvious that there is no requirement of same-sex marriage; I actually think there is a requirement that if opposite sex marriage is allowed, so is same-sex marriage, on equal protection grounds).

    2. Angra, thanks for your comment. It sounds like your argument rests on a question of the individual's discretion to decide the law as it ought to be according to their reading of the constitution. Unfortunately, that's not discretion a county clerk or even a Lieutenant Governor has. In their official capacity, they have to work with the law as it is. However, they can as citizens and members of the body politic take concerted action to change the law, which might involve exactly the actions they took, but recognizing that doing so is an abuse of their official authority. At some point, they should have to expect to be un-elected (repealed) or jailed for contempt of a court order directing them to comply. If they still do not comply, then it seems to me that they should resign their office or continue in jail for contempt, since that is what they are doing. It just strikes me as unacceptable to expect that they can ignore the law and limits of their authority AND still retain that authority. The basis for their actions makes little difference, except as to whether they might be morally praiseworthy (or contemptible) or whether their soul is good with god (or not) or whether they can find like-minded compatriots with whom to engage in further struggle to effect a change in the law.

    3. Christina

      Thanks for your reply.

      With regard to your point about the individual discretion, if I understand it correctly, I don't think I agree.
      A law that is in violation of the Constitution is not valid (it's not actually a law in the US constitutional system, even if it's a "law" in the sense it's been formally passed by a regular legislative body) and does not obligate them. I don't think that they're breaking the law (in the relevant sense) if they ignore it.
      If I understand your argument, when you say that they "have to" work with the law as it is, you're making a legal (not a moral) argument, so you're saying that their behavior is illegal. But while their behavior would be in breach of the unconstitutional formally-passed law, their behavior in my assessment would be legal - as the purported law is not valid even if passed by a legislative body by the regular procedures.

      For example, in the past, a law in Alabama criminalized (or more precisely, attempts to criminalize, but unconstitutionally) interracial marriage or interracial sex in a state.
      In the case "Pace v. Alabama" the SCOTUS mistakenly held that the law was constitutional. But it wasn't. The behavior of Pace and Cox wasn't actually criminal (just as the behavior of Lawrence and Garner wasn't; see below), and if an elected official had married them - realizing the law was unconstitutional -, he would not have been breaking the law. Of course, in that case, he should have expected punishment from people who mistakenly believed that he broke the law, but that does not imply he would have actually been acting illegally. If an Alabama official had married Pace and Cox and the case had gone to the SCOTUS, the justicies would have mistakenly held that he acted illegally, but in my view, the correct assessment (under the US Constitution) would have been that that was not the case.

      When you say you find it "unacceptable" that they can ignore the law, etc., I'm not entirely sure whether that's "morally unacceptable" or "legally unacceptable", though I'm leaning towards the latter (though it might be something else; please clarify). If it's a legal assessment, I would say that if they are knowingly acting against an unconstitutional law, they're not ignoring the law - rather, they're upholding the law, in this case the US Constitution, which is the law of the land.

      So, for example, if someone had actually issued married licenses for gay couples before the SCOTUS decision - after realizing that a ban on SSM was unconstitutional -, I don't think they would have been breaking the law. If a case like that had gone to the SCOTUS, the court should have held that the marriage was valid.

      An example not involving government officials but which I think may highlight the principle that breaking a formally-passed law that breaches the Constitution is not illegal in the relevant sense (i.e., under the US Constitutional system) is Lawrence v. Texas. Lawrence and Garner did not commit a crime - even if their behavior matched the statute's description -, and for that reason, the Courts overturned their conviction.
      I don't think in the case of an official upholding the Constitution and breaking an unconstitutional formally-passed law, their behavior would be considered illegal by the courts, if the courts realize that the law in question was unconstitutional.

      That said, I do think Davis was breaking the law. But as I see it, that's not because of the fact that she's making an assessment of what the Constitution says (if she is; I'm not sure about it; maybe she realizes she's breaking the law). It's because according to the law, she must issue the licenses in question, or at least allow others to issue them.

    4. Angra, thanks for your response and further elaboration. I think I will have to disagree with you when you claim that a law, even when enacted by a duly constituted legislature by authoritative processes but which is contrary to the constitution is no law. If you mean morally, then I agree, and morally it does not bind. Hence my reference in previous posts to the moral power and legitimacy of civil disobedience. But the authority and power of a county clerk to issue marriage licenses is not a moral authority, it is a governmental authority established by policy and law. Such law, even if in the opinion of many is unconstitutional (will not withstand constitutional review), I would say it is law. Until SCOTUS determines the constitutional status of the law, legally, the law is as the next most high legal authority determines it to be. We cannot individually decide the constitutionality of any law and act on it, invoking our otherwise legitimate political/governmental authority to do so. That's not how this legal system works. It is always up to the court to decide to grandparent in previous "violations" of a law deemed to have been unconstitutional. Hence my soft-spot so to speak for exercises of official power which expand rights to those formerly denied or improve equality by eliminating discrimination where it once was. However, at the time those actions are taken, they are extra-authoritative, they exceed the authority of the officer to issue them.

    5. Christina,

      Thank you too for the reply and further thoughts.

      As for your question, I don't mean morally. I mean that under the US Constitutional system, the formally passed law is invalid.
      In my assessment, if it's a bill attempting to criminale behavior, it's not a crime to engage in the behavior in question (unless a valid law also criminalizes it). If it's a bill attempting to establish legal obligations on public officials, they have no such legal obligations in the US system (unless some actual law also imposes them), and so on.

      But to further clarify my take on this, I think the issue is not whether it's unconstitutional in the opinion of many, or even whether it will pass review by the SCOTUS, but whether it's actually unconstitutional. A law (in the sense of formally passed) attempting to criminalize interracial sex was deemed constitutional by the SCOTUS in Pace vs. Alabama, even though it was not, and the behavior in question was not actually criminal (even though people were convicted), just as same-sex relations were not criminal even before Lawrence v. Texas, but they were regularly deemed criminal, and so on.

      That aside, when you say that we "cannot" individually decide the Constitutionality of any law an act on it, I'm not sure what exactly you mean. Could you clarify that, please?
      Consider, for example, the case of Lawrence and Garner. They decided to have sex regardless of the formal law criminalizing it. Assuming they previously concluded that the law was unconstitutional (let's say, for the sake of the argument), I'm not sure in which sense they cannot make such decision and act on it. As a matter of fact - i.e., in terms of power -, they acted on it. As a matter of morality, they did nothing wrong. And as a matter of law, the courts declared (I would add correctly) that their behavior was not criminal. But the courts didn't make their behavior not criminal. Rather, they found that it was not criminal, given that the formal law attempting to criminalize it was not valid.

      It's true that as a matter of fact, the courts have the power to enforce even their bad rulings, but that does not mean that the behavior in question is actually criminal or at least illegal (depending on the case).

      I don't think it's different when it comes to acts of government officials.
      For example, let's say that a clerk issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple before the SCOTUS decision. Would the license be invalid? I don't think so. As far as I can tell, the SCOTUS would declare the license valid, but they wouldn't make the license valid. In other words, their act would be one of finding that it already was valid in the US Constitutional system, not one of turning a previously invalid license into a valid one.

      Do you think it's the other way around, i.e., that a marriage license issued before the SCOTUS decision to a same-sex couple in a state that (attempts to) ban same-sex marriage would be invalid until the SCOTUS rules it's valid?

    6. Russell, thanks for the opportunity to expand in a different way. As Kyle notes below, one important difference between what Newsom did and what Davis did is that satisfying her conscience imposed direct and measurable harm on others, on a segment of the population she is required to serve in the capacity of her office, by denying them a right that had been federally recognized.

      The hypothetical you offer – in the case that my role as department chair required me to engage in animal sacrifice – is a massive red-herring, however. First, it is really unfathomable in what sense anything pertaining to my office as department chair could be even tangentially related to animal sacrifice. Second, it would be an odd turn of events that led state laws prohibiting me from doing it to be construed as more barbaric (medieval) than those mandating it. Second, it could not possibly be something which anyone could in advance foresee as a reasonable extension of the duties of office chair. And third, unlike the issue at hand, it is not as though the position already had among its terms of office the slaughtering of animals, now the question is about which animals (clerk issues marriage licenses, she’s dismayed about to whom they can now be issued). If this were to come about, by some bizarre directive of the Supreme Court, I should first ascertain whether they remain sane.

      But supposing that in some possible world where I am department chair, in which I have the same animal rights commitment I currently possess, but that beginning tomorrow being department chair required that I sacrifice animals, I would not (a) defer the slaughtering to someone else in order merely to keep my hands clean and retain my office, nor (b) would I resist slaughtering them myself and expect not to be challenged by my supervisors for the failure – perhaps including my being fired for not complying. However, in not slaughtering the animals I would not merely appeal to my own conscience, which likely few would share (and it wouldn’t matter if they did), but I would appeal the terms of the office to make clear that slaughtering animals does NOTHING to advance the efficacy of chairing a department, that it defies the various values and principles of effective leadership undermining confidence in the office by requiring an irrelevant, brutal and harmful activity, that it imposes economic and moral costs contrary to the good running of a department, and if all that failed, I would indeed resign as department chair and immediately engage in seeking to end the abominable practice. At the least, anyone who would replace me as department chair would then know in advance that the position requires this activity and they could seek to reconcile it with their conscience PRIOR to taking the office. I would be happy to consult with them.

    7. Chris, it appears we agree on at least one thing here: my parenthetical example really was "quick and clumsy."

      The principle around the parentheses, however, was this: "if tomorrow you found out that the Supreme Court decided that something your government position required you to do was in fact something that violated your own conscience...would you resign or comply?"

      Your answer, using my clumsy example, was, eventually, would resign.

      But would it have been wrong for you to seek an accommodation in such circumstances? That, in the deeper analysis, is even more important than what you would do. (Asking "what would you do?" is not an attempt to suggest hypocrisy here but an attempt to prompt a different way of getting to the deeper issue.)

    8. (continued from a second ago…)

      Still, let's consider a different hypothetical example, that still involves being a philosophy department chair at a public university, but not one being asked to perform animal sacrifices. I will try to make it a bit closer to the idea of issuing marriage licenses that do not clearly harm individuals...

      Let's pretend the Supreme Court, under the tutelage of one of its more creative members from the Golden State, discovers a constitutional right to getting a philosophy major at a public university.

      (Perhaps it's part of a broader social movement of improving four-year graduation rates; or perhaps some students brought a legal case against the State of California for discriminating against them through the onerous requirements for getting a philosophy major at one of the Cal State campuses.)

      Interestingly, the Court discovers that, in a departure from several thousand years of the discipline of philosophy in every culture (and in a further departure from most of the history of public universities granting philosophy degrees in this country up until very recently), a student does not actually need to read (or even know about) any author (or any particular idea) that constitutes the traditional core of the discipline of philosophy, at least as we've taught it for the last few years here at Sac State.

      (There are, of course, ways of making this example more or less extreme. Perhaps SCOTUS only insists, modestly, that a study of crystals must now count as satisfying our Metaphysics requirement. Or perhaps SCOTUS insists that as long as the student explains how their previous non-philosophy coursework counts as giving them a 'philosophy of life' then we have to grant them a philosophy degree.)

      Naturally, the process leading up to such a SCOTUS decision was an entertaining contest of political and philosophical wills. At courthouses around the nation, crowds of folks wearing togas and holding signs to "Defend Philosophy" squared off opposite folks holding a "Philosophy Equality Now!" signs dressed like Donald Trump or Michel Foucault.

      But eventually, the Court had spoken, and it was time to get back to issuing philosophy degrees. Which brings us back to you, as department chair. You now have to sign and process the same degree granting paperwork, with your name printed on it, certifying the "philosophy" degree--both to all the students who do the degree the old-fashioned way (as listed on the current website requirements) and for the new cohorts of students who always wanted a philosophy degree but now had federal friends in high places who had made it possible for them to get one.

      As one of the more traditionally-minded folks who strongly resisted the Philosophy Equality rhetoric from its inception, you can't help but feel the prick of your conscience when you start to sign the first form awarding the formerly prestigious philosophy degree to someone whose senior paper on The Power of Positive Thinking (Norman Vincent Peale) was written for an English class, defending the thesis that "since this book influenced the church that influenced Trump to Make America Great Again, it must be a huuuuge political masterpiece of political philosophy."

      You sigh as you think, "sure, it may not harm anybody (or does it? What would Socrates say here?), but isn't it possible this student could ask someone else in the department to sign this form? Or maybe the department chair at a sister CSU, like San Jose State, through an online philosophy degree verification program? Why do they have to go through me?"

      Is it really so wrong to think that?

      I'm sure I mixed up some appropriate details with this new example. But again, the real issue isn't the example, but the principle.

    9. Russell, apologies for the delay to responding to your thoughtful comment.
      Nice twist and much better than your first example. I think the parallel rests on a couple of questionable assumptions:
      1. that no one else is harmed by the issuance of philosophy degrees to those who have not met the requirements;
      2. that there is no connection between the degree and any requirement for understanding the discipline for which it is a degree.

      As to 2, I'd wonder what the Supreme Court was trying to achieve and whether it was creating precedence or building on precedence. Afterall, there must be some grounds for them to proclaim to liberate philosophy students from restrictive and oppressive knowledge requirements, perhaps because other studiers of other disciplines had already been liberated and this was an effort to liberate philosophy students in an effort at equal treatment for students as students regardless of their disciplinary preferences. Or perhaps this is the first such case to liberate students as students from knowledge. Either way, assuming I understand but disagree with the Supreme Court effort, I believe I would have to resign. Indeed, for me to merely seek an accommodation, that someone else be authorized to sign these graduation applications, would be for me to allow and tolerate something fundamentally wrong to continue, despite my hands being clean. What sort of ethics would that be?

      As to 1, I think (unlike the marriage case) there are others who are harmed by the granting of philosophy degrees to those who demonstrate no disciplinary knowledge – those who are required to demonstrate that knowledge and those who rely on the degree indicating its possessor has that knowledge. The burden and struggle to learn the formerly required philosophy content and the signification of the degree that the individual named on it has that knowledge, is actually undermined by the granting of that same degree to those who lack the requisite knowledge. Also, those who might act toward a philosophy BA on the assumption that she had that knowledge and relied upon the possession of a degree to confirm it, might be harmed by the proliferation of degrees which are not a signification of the possession of that knowledge. If Sue hires Fred, a newly minted BA in Philosophy, to create a logic game for her toy company, a game which teaches children the basics of deductive and probabilistic reasoning, then Sue would be harmed by relying on that degree as an indicator of Fred’s logic skills if Fred got his degree under the new plan. I believe this is a harm which can be prevented or mitigated, not by my belief being accommodated and me retaining my position as department chair, but by overturning the ruling.

      Indeed, also unlike the marriage situation generally, but perhaps very close to the bulk of work of a country clerk, this would be a challenge fundamental to my position as chair of a philosophy department. I’m not sure I could continue as a professor of philosophy, let alone as a department chair, under these conditions. Indeed, I might be right to believe that it is better for no one to be issued a philosophy degree than to issue degrees to those who want it but have not demonstrated any disciplinary knowledge (kind of like my belief that we should be seeking to eliminate marriage rather than letting more have access, but that’s really an argument for another blog post). It would also be unethical, I believe, to expect my belief to be accommodated, by say, having someone else sign those degrees. If I believe it’s wrong for me to do, then it should also be wrong for anyone else to do it for me. So, I believe the ethical thing to do would be to resign and dedicate my efforts to changing the law.

      Wouldn’t it be interesting if those seeking to marry had to demonstrate some sort of knowledge or understanding of the institution before obtaining a license? And isn’t it a good thing that it signifies that these two individuals have committed themselves in love to caring for each other…

  3. Sorry, that last post may contain a bit of trivia that folks don't remember: "In 2004, Newsom gained national attention when he directed the San Francisco city–county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in violation of the then-current state law." Quote taken from a very low-hanging piece of fruit:

  4. I was convinced that Chris was right for the reasons she gave. But then, after reading Randy and Russel's great comments, I'm pretty sure that my prior strongly held moral beliefs made me quite uncritical.

    How then could we delve deeper into this tricky issue? One potential Avenue is to consider whether Davis or Newsom had other options for civil disobedience that more closely parallel the actions of Rosa Parks.

    First, Davis and Newsom should quit their positions of public responsibility. Then they should... Wait! Now they can't break the law they consider unjust because they lack the relevant power. The best Davis could do is to hold a married couples event and not admit same-sex couples... but I'm not sure they'd be too excited about going anyway. I suppose Newsom could do something similar; admit same-sex couples to his married-only event.

    I remain perplexed by the issue, and unsure of my own motivating reasons.

    1. Hi, Dan

      I think a difference that might be one of the causes of your assessment (apart from other differences) is the fact that Park was defending a just cause, whereas Davis is defending an unjust cause.
      Davis's actions seem to resemble more closely those of a public official who would refuse to issue licenses to interracial couples after the laws banning interracial marriages were struck down in Loving vs. Virginia (though that would arguably be even worse because the overall situation of interracial couples in those states back then was overall worse than the situation of same-sex couples today).
      A refusal to issue licenses but in defense of a just cause would be - say - the behavior of an official who refused to issue marriage licenses to 9 year old (or 10, 11, etc.) girls whose marriages to adult men were arranged by their father, in a country where that were legal.

  5. An important difference between Davis and Newsom is that Davis was harming people -- gays and lesbians who wanted to marry. She utilized her position of power, and the state's monopoly on marriage certificates, to deny people the many significant benefits that come with them.

    But I do disagree with you, Chris, that simply because Davis was an elected official it's just obviously ok to coerce her conscience. I don't think it's necessary to require her to issue the licenses (she isn't now being required to issue licenses to same-sex couples -- some of her deputies are doing it). I think the worst thing Davis did was, given the harm it caused to gays and lesbians, to refuse to permit her deputies to certify same-sex marriages (and, I don't know if Newsom required people to issue marriage certificates for same-sex marriages even if they had moral objections to it).

    1. Kyle, I know we've talked about this before, and it seems our main point of contention is the degree to which we believe others should bear the burden of someone else's conscience. It's a good thing she has deputies to cover this function of her office, but it could well be the case that none of them would be willing to do it for the same reasons as she offers. It could also be the case that, in a small enough county, she might be the only person with the authority to do so, so there might not be someone else to whom her task could be deferred. But ultimately, why should it be the case that others must assume additional or alternate responsibilities and tasks to ensure that she is able BOTH to occupy the office to which those responsibilities properly belong and not to have to do what she personally doesn't agree with despite this being part of her job. That the clerk issues marriage licenses is a core function of the office. That people get married regularly is pretty much to be expected. It's not a stretch to find that those who were once banned from marrying might one day be permitted to marry. It's not like she has to slaughter animals when processing forms all of a sudden.

    2. In the actual situation, no one really is bearing the burden of her conscience. Gay and lesbian couples are getting their certificates. The deputies issuing them don't have increased work loads.

      In some counterfactual situation, things might be different. If significant burdens mount up, then maybe a win-win solution wouldn't be possible and, in this kind of situation, we could legitimately coerce her conscience. But that's different than arguing that it's obviously ok simply because she's an elected official.

      I actually don't think our main point of contention is about the degree to which we believe others should bear the burden of someone else's conscience. One example would be a military exemption. The burden on others of claiming such an exemption is very significant, but most people think the conscientious beliefs of pacifists should be accommodated.

    3. Kyle, true win-win solutions are better. I just don't see this as being one of them. She's still the supervising authority in the Clerk's office. She has already indicated she wants her office to have nothing to do with legitimating marriages for gays and lesbians, by first refusing to authorize them herself, then by attempting to alter the forms to remove her name and seal. By putting her duties onto the shoulders of her staff, whom she will eventually evaluate and review, it makes them vulnerable to her clear efforts to ensure her convictions are the guiding rule of the clerk's office. That's an awful lot of accommodating for someone who refuses to do her duly appointed and legally required function.

  6. Alarmed by Chris’ bleak account of “Conservative Christians” (“the new ayatollahs”), I looked for details of the proposal by Christian denominations to revive sodomy laws and otherwise persecute their gay fellow citizens.

    I didn’t find any. Christian denominations in America seem, as a rule, to follow the liberal practice of leaving other people alone to live their lives, however much they may disapprove of how they go about it. (Well, there’s that guy with the big message board on Market Street who abuses passersby. But I’m not sure he counts as a ‘denomination’.) Indeed, most denominations seem to be ministering to their gay members just as they do anyone else.

    Liberal institutions constitute a set of ‘peace terms’ by which a society can function despite continuing fundamental disagreement over the nature of the good. As Chris correctly points out, they accomplish this by privatizing those realms of social life in which the conflict arises. Where complete privatization is not possible liberalism enjoins accommodation.

    Over the years we have become forgetful about the real nature of the war to which those peace terms put an end.

    I fear that we will have occasion to be reminded.

    Unlike the civil rights movement of the 60’s, many current movements for change have shown themselves, time and again, to be quite ferociously intolerant. They are not prepared to let others live their lives, nor are they prepared to reciprocate the (however disapproving) tolerance Christian denominations manifestly show them.

    Instead they wage economic war against small bakeries who are perfectly happy to serve customers whatever their orientation but just don’t want to bake wedding cakes. Why not just accommodate them by going to another bakery down the street?

    But that’s not what happened.

    In Sacramento the director of a theatre was not only driven from his position but rendered unemployable in any professional capacity for exercising his democratic right to contribute to the Proposition 8 campaign. Whole Foods was subjected to an economic boycott when its CEO did likewise. In that case the CEO made it crystal clear that it welcomed all customers and did not discriminate in any way. Nor was the boycott driven by any considerations about the quality of the company or its product. It was intolerance driven entirely by a difference in conceptions of the good.

    A better analogy than Rosa Parks would be Thomas More. More was also a government official who had (as Russell puts it) the law shift under his feet. Other officials, possessing more nimble consciences, went with the flow – and prospered. It’s pretty clear who was morally superior to whom in that case, as I think it is in the current one. More’s conscientious objection to Henry’s divorce should have been accommodated rather than punished by beheading him. Ms. Davis’ conscientious objection should be accommodated too.

    That is, unless we want government ministers with nimble consciences.

    But I don’t think we do.

    1. Thomas,

      While I agree that the "ayatollah" characterization goes too far, I don't agree with your analogy and your assessment of "nimble consciences".
      It seems to me More isn't a good analogy or a good example; for instance, he was a person who imprisoned people for possession or sale of Reformation books. In at least two cases, he imposed corporal punishments for heresy. And during his chancellorship people were still burned at the stake - which he approved at least in one case, even if he wasn't directly involved. That's closer to some of the ayatollahs than to Davis, it seems to me (granted, his opponents were also more ayatollah-like, so it was more of a case of bad vs. bad). On that note, some of the ayatollahs also defend what they believe is right, good, just, etc., and they engage in violent actions against innocent people, like imprisonment, flogging, execution sometimes (it depends on the ayatollah; they're not all the same). But - like Davis - they just shouldn't believe what they do; the reason they're not very similar to Davis (morally) is that they go far beyond what she does in defense of the injustices they consider justice, and so their behavior is far worse.

      So, I think a better analogy (to Davis's case) would be one of a public official who refuses to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples after Loving v. Virginia, and also tries to prevent other officials from issuing the licences in question, because they believe that's their moral duty.
      In that hypothetical case (unlike that of More, and like Davis's), there would be no attempt to imprison people.
      Also, it would be analogous in that the law does not actually changes - the SCOTUS interpretation does, unlike in More's case -, and that the person acts on what their believe is their moral duty.
      I don't think their behavior would be morally praiseworthy at all. Even though they believe they have a moral obligation to do what they're doing in defense of what they consider a just cause, they don't - and they should realize they don't, that the cause they defend is unjust, etc.

      As for officials who issue the licences, some (most) may well have duties to their family, and that requires them not to lose their jobs. Some may reckon (and probably do) that they have a duty to do their job and follow the law (or at least to allow others to do theirs), even if they don't find same-sex marriage (or interracial marriage) morally acceptable. Finally, others may have been in favor of same-sex marriage (or interracial marriage) already, etc.; the morality of the actions of those who accept the ruling depends on the individual case, and I don't see any reason why the person who sticks to the unjust cause they believe to be just (like Davis, or the official refusing licenses to interracial couples) would be morally superior. That would depend on the specific case, the reasons for issuing the licences, etc., but even in those cases in which Davis or the similar official are doing something morally better, that's because the other person is doing something even more wrong.

      That said, I would be unsurprised if you disagreed on the justice of the causes some of those people defend (especially Davis). It seems to me that a proper assessment of the morality of Davis's behavior - and also of which other situations would be relevantly morally analogous - hinges on questions such as the justice of the causes they're defending, the warrant - or lack thereof - for their beliefs on the matter, etc.

    2. Some history will help here.

      The More episode occurred long before the liberal peace treaty. The religious wars were in full swing (the population of central Europe would decline as a result).
      The questions everyone faced were these. (i) Given your mistaken views about what God requires, how can I as a Christian spare you (another kind of Christian) from divine punishment? (ii) Given that each of us is trying to spare the other from divine punishment by trying to ban what God forbids, how can we live together as a society?

      After all, tolerance is not a natural response to fundamental disagreement; nor is it in many cases a morally preferable one. If you 'tolerate' my smoking or drug use, adopting the position that I can live my life as I please, aren't you failing in the duties you owe me as a friend?
      Toleration became the proper liberal response only because none of the sides in the wars could eliminate the others.
      We had to learn to live together somehow.

      More was executed in 1535. A reasonable date for the 'liberal peace treaty' is 1688: the Glorious Revolution in England, which established toleration of dissenters within the country (though even this excluded Catholics).

      So this process of making liberalism seem an attractive alternative took over 150 years.

      It's always a mistake to hold people in the past to the moral standards of the present. First because it fails to take their own moral reasons into account. And second, because our own moral standards may not be All That. (Consider our growing willingness to dispatch the unfit and superfluous at either end of life: this would have been morally monstrous to the people of More's time.)

      I used More as an example not of toleration - no one at the time was tolerant - but of a person of conscience faced with something he considered a grave moral wrong.

    3. I get it wasn't an example of tolerance, but you objected to the parallel between Davis and the ayatollahs not on the grounds that they aren't people of conscience, but on the grounds that the behaviors of the ayatollahs are different from (and implicitly worse than) those of Davis.
      So, in terms of the degree of immorality of their behavior (i.e., of their behavior they carry out falsely believing it's their moral duty to behave in such a manner), More seems closer to (many of) the ayatollahs than to Davis.
      On the other hand, if the issue is that More was a person of conscience, then I don't know what your objection to the ayatollahs example would be. There are enough of them who are people of conscience.
      That aside, there is no such thing as the "moral standards of the present", if that is supposed to mean some kind of prevalent moral views of the present time (if not, what do you mean?)
      Moral views they vary widely from social group to social group. The moral views prevalent in rural Afghanistan or Egypt or among the ayatollahs are surely not the same that are prevalent in London, even in the present-day (even assuming there is such thing as the moral views prevalent in each of those places; maybe further divisions are needed before we get a majority)
      However, we still judge the behavior of the ayatollahs immoral, and we most certainly do not evaluate their actions by the standards of their social group - and with good reason -, in spite of the fact that they grew up in a social environment very different from the one(s) each of us grew up in, and in spite of the fact that they still live in a social environment very different from ours.
      While having grown up in a social environment in which one gets false moral teachings may in some cases reduce the culpability of an action, that does not fully excuse acting on such false moral beliefs - and even the partial excuse does not always hold.
      As for when a behavior occurred, that is not relevant to the morality of it, except to the extent that the social environment (considering both the situation in which a person acts and the situation in which they grew up) changed in time.
      In particular, the fact that More's social environment with some grossly false prevalent moral beliefs existed centuries ago while others (ayatollahs, Taliban, etc.) existed more recently or still do, does not provide a bigger excuse for the former. After all, the Taliban, ayatollahs, and others, in nearly all or all cases didn't grow up being taught about liberalism, the Glorious Revolution, etc.; they're as much a product of their social environment as More was. They still have free will, and made their choices - and so did More.
      It may be that More's actions in his social environment are less immoral than the ayatollahs in theirs and/or than those of the Taliban in theirs (or some other present-day religiously motivated person behaving immorally), though that's difficult to say. Maybe in some cases, some of the Taliban even have a bigger excuse than More, as they environment they grew up in was even worse, and the ayatollahs a little less. But it's a tough call.
      The argument you give against holding people in the past to what you describe as the "moral standards of the present" may be paralleled by an argument against holding people in a different social context (past or present, that is not the point) to the moral standards of your own social environment.
      While many behaviors of today would have looked monstrous to the people of More's time...and social environment (of course there is no single social/moral environment in More's time, either), for that matter, many behaviors prevalent in the US would look monstrous to people who grew up going to a conservative madrasa in Pakistan, etc. Similarly, ayatollahs, Taliban, etc., also give reasons they believe to be moral ones, as More did.

    4. Tom, thanks for your thoughtful response, and the very important lesson in intolerance from the left.

      My concern about conservative Christians, those I dubbed the new ayatollahs, was less a result of reviewing formal policy statements by Christian denominations and more a concern with key figures, especially those occupying or seeking to occupy political and governmental offices wherein they propose (or actually do) attempt to craft legislation and policy according to their particular Christian beliefs, not because these beliefs, if enacted, are right or justifiable or would make the world or community a better place for everyone, but because they believe these to be dictated by God.

      I have in mind people like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and among the less overt (but still appealing to their Christian faith) others including Cruz, Rubio, Bush, etc., all of whom are currently running in the Republican race for presidential nominee.

      I also have in mind the many congressional representatives and senators whose platforms and policy statements, and official actions, are justified in no unclear terms by their Christian faith. Just watch the senate committee hearing grilling of Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, and listen to their questions and the evidence they provide for their positions (most of which comes from conservative Christian think tanks like the Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, the Christian Coalition for America, etc).

      In the photo alongside this blog, you might remember seeing on Davis's right, Mike Huckabee, who at this event (her release from jail on contempt of court charges) warned of the war against the faithful and compared her to Rosa Parks. Fox News picked up the analogy like it came as a missive from on high.

      But I suppose your response is more a plea for tolerance and expansive freedom of conscience more generally. I don't think I denied that in my post. Indeed, I thought I made it clear that I completely support Davis's right to exercise her beliefs to the fullest extent, as any PRIVATE citizen should be free to do. What I object to, and what she is an example of, in my perception, is an individual who is enjoining all the rest of us to be burdened by her exercise of her faith, and enforcing that burden on others by the misuse of her public (not private) official (not personal) authority.

    5. To Angra Mainyu,

      I made no objection to the “parallel between Davis and the ayatollahs”. I responded to Chris’ characterization of conservative Christians.

      The ‘moral standards of the present’ include the practice of liberal tolerance of fundamental disagreement. Christian denominations are practicing that; lots of progressive groups aren’t.

      Why shouldn’t the present existence of a practice of liberal tolerance, and its absence in the past, affect our current judgments regarding the morality of today’s ayatollahs, as opposed to the people of the 16th century? Shouldn’t the present existence of a tradition of scientific medicine affect our judgment regarding the morality of someone today who tried witchcraft to cure his child?

      Ahura Mazda

    6. To Ahura Mazda,

      Christine wasn't making a parallel between conservative Christians and ayatollahs, suggesting that the former wanted to enforce policies as bad as those the latter want to impose. Her point was that conservative Christians argue that Davis is a Parks-like hero, fighting against the oppression of the faithful. Given that not all conservative Chritians do that, it may be an overgeneralization (unless it's clear by context whom she's talking about), but regarding Davis's behavior in that fashion seems common among conservative Christians.

      She also compared some people in positions of power (but not conservative Christians in general) to ayatollahs, because those people "believe that their faith should guide their actions, should be a basis for law and policy, and should be the basis for their discretionary use of their authority."
      Her claim seems true. Legal toleration of certain behaviors (which they believe should be left for God to punish) is also part of some of those people's religious beliefs (and even of the ayatollahs), but in other cases (e.g., abortion, gay marriage), their religion - and they - insist on non-toleration.
      Now, the ayatollahs have beliefs that overall lead to far more oppression of the innocent they believe to be guilty, but Christine did not contend that the policies some people in positions of power attempted to impose in America were as bad overall as those the ayatollahs

      That aside, as I mentioned, there is no "moral standards of the present" if that is supposed to mean some kind of prevalent moral views of the present time (if not, what do you mean?)
      The practice of liberal tolerance of fundamental disagreement is common in the US or Europe in the present, but not in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, or Iran.
      On that note, I don't know whether More's social environment was any less conducive to tolerance than that in which the ayatollahs lived or live, or the Taliban, etc.
      For example, even in his time, he was accused of using violence against heretics. Criticism like that would not exist in a madrasa in rural Pakistan, or in Afghanistan, or (probably) in their communities. As for the ayatollahs, it depends on which ayatollahs we're talking about, specifically. Maybe More is less guilty than most of the ayatollahs but more than most of the Taliban, for a similar exterior behavior. Maybe it's the other way around. I don't know.

      With regard to the medicine example, the present existence of a tradition of scientific medicine should affect our judgment regarding the morality of someone today who tried witchcraft to cure his child...unless, of course, the person doing that today is a member of a tribe that grew up with no knowledge of science, and instead was indoctrinated into witchcraft from childhood. My point here is that it's not the "when" that matters, but the social conditions in which a person grew up and still lives, regardless of when those conditions happened. For example, using witchcraft in an attempt to heal a child was probably much less excusable in New York in 1910 than it would be today in some parts of the Amazon (e.g., ).

      Also, I would say there is there is a difference between false moral beliefs that result only from false non-moral beliefs (e.g., the belief that a lobotomy can help a person may result in the false moral belief that it's permissible to do it) and those that don't (e.g., the belief that apostates or heretics deserve to be burned to death, that adulterers deserve to be stoned to death, etc.). All other things equal (e.g., similar degree of probable harm to innocent people, etc.), I'd say the latter provides less of an excuse (the former kind of errors can even provide a full excuse sometimes, but I doubt the latter can.)

      Angra Mainyu

    7. Christina,

      Sorry I misspelled your name; my bad.

  7. Chris,

    Thanks for your reply.

    I’m pleased to see your acknowledgment of the intolerance from some on the left. Many otherwise intelligent and well-intentioned people find it very difficult to see – or at least, to acknowledge.

    The activity that “people like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum…Cruz, Rubio, Bush, etc.” are involved in is democratic politics in a liberal society. They are seeking to form a majority of their fellow citizens in order to be in a position to enact their favored policies.

    After all, a liberal society is not one that contains no conservatives.

    The “grilling” of Cecile Richards was, given the acceptance of liberal norms on all sides, fortunately figurative. No auto da fe is in the offing.

    The idea that citizens, including candidates, cannot employ religious reasons in democratic debate is simply mistaken.

    And yes, my plea is for everyone to take a deep breath and relax. Accommodate Ms. Davis (after all, fidelity to conscience can come in handy at times). Accommodate the bakers. Accommodate gay couples who wish to participate in the legal fiction that marriage has now become.

    I wish that the gay marriage dispute had likewise been settled by democratic politics in a liberal fashion.

    But it wasn’t.

    1. Thomas,

      There is a difference between a liberal society and a democratic one. Santorum and the others do seek a majority (not exactly, since it's not about popular vote, but close enough) in order to enact (among others) some policies that are unjustly oppressive to other groups. That's illiberal - though more importantly, unjust, though of course we probably disagree on that -, even if democratic.
      Btw, I think some leftists do that too; they just have a different ideology, so they try to impose some other stuff.

      The bakers are private individuals or companies, and the matter seems different from that of restaurants, bars, etc.; I think legal accommodation would be a good idea in their case. On the other hand, boycotts are also private matters, not the use of government force.

      On the other hand, Davis is a public offical who both refused to sign marriage certificates, and ordered other officials not to sign them. Also, her actions were (according to her) based on her religion and her religious beliefs about marriage. It's hard to see how a public vote establishing same-sex marriage would have settled that matter, at least if she was not being inconsistent (then again, such a vote would not have happened in Kentucky for a very long time).

    2. I like you!

      You're a cross between the Black Knight and the Killer Rabbit.

    3. Hi Tom,
      Apologies for the delay in responding. Of course I don't think public deliberation about policies and laws, etc., should prohibit religious claims nor should individuals not be able to reason from their faith.

      However, I do believe that central to a liberal democracy is the idea that faith is insufficient justification for governmental action. It should never be acceptable in a liberal democracy that the reason for the denial of someone his or her rights is "...because it is god's law", or "...because my faith demands it...". It should also not be acceptable to hear from government officials, or candidates for government office, or even from our fellow citizens in debate that, because an action is required or prohibited by god is sufficient justification for it being required or prohibited to all as a matter of civil law or institutional practice. This should be no more acceptable to our religious neighbours as to our atheistic ones. Otherwise, what we have is a theocracy rather than a liberal democracy.

      When you hear those gentlemen speak, as when we heard Karen Davis deny her neighbour his right to apply for a marriage certificate, it is god's law that provides the rationale. What makes a liberal democracy a liberal one, rather than a religious or theocratic democracy is that government action must be justifiable in terms and on the basis of reasoning which is generally accessible across a variety of conceptions of the good. Governmental neutrality with regard to conceptions of the good. Separation of church and state, freedom of conscience, due process of laws, all demand and protect it, not primarily for the religious, but primarily for all of us. The Founders were near enough to the power of the religion to usurp that freedom that they believed it was necessary to insulate government power from it...for the sake of all of us.