Pope implicitly supports Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gays

September 28, 2015 • 12:00 pm

Let us not forget that although the Pope has great p.r. and hits all the right notes with the American public, he still adheres to the Church’s doctrine that homosexual acts are “grave sins.” And he claims that any exercise of religion in the public sphere is a “right” that cannot be abrogated. According to NBC News, the Pope aired the latter view to reporters while flying back to Europe on the Papal Plane (“Shepherd One”).

While returning from his visit to the U.S., the pontiff told reporters aboard the papal plane Monday that anyone who prevents others from exercising their religious freedom is denying them a human right.

. . . The pontiff was asked: “Do you … support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example when issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”

He did not refer specifically to Davis in his reply, saying: “I can’t have in mind all the 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. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

What about the “right” not to be infected by someone who refuses vaccination on religious grounds? Or the “right” of children to be given medical care when their parents object on religious grounds? Or the “right” of gays (now an official legal right!) to get a marriage license? The story continues:

Francis added: “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.'”

Asked if this principle applied to government officials carrying out their duties, he replied: “It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”

Well, yes, conscientious objection is a “right” in the sense that one can object, but that doesn’t mean that you’re free from punishment for exercising that “right”. I would have gone to prison, for instance, if the government hadn’t granted me official CO status allowing me to work in a hospital.

But alternatives like that aren’t always available. The courts have decided that exercising religious freedom isn’t an untrammeled “right” that can always be exercised without penalty, especially if it conflicts with one’s official duties or with laws. The Kim Davis case is still hanging in the air, but if the government cannot accommodate religious beliefs that keep one from doing one’s job without onerous and elaborate fixes, the tenor of laaw is that those beliefs cannot be enacted.

And, contra the Pope, we can indeed select which rights have merit and which do not. That’s nothing new. Religious “rights” that prevent others from obtaining their own legal rights, like marriage licenses for gays, don’t have merit. Religious objections to vaccination, though allowed in 48 of the 50 US states (West Virginia and Mississippi are the exceptions), do not have merit, for they endanger society as a whole as well as children too young to make their own decisions. Religious exemptions of pharmacists from dispensing contraceptive devices or medication, though allowed  in six states (Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota), have no merit because they prevent or obstruct others from getting legal medication.

Taken to its extreme, the Pope’s view is that any religious person who works for the government or caters to the public can avoid doing certain duties on religious grounds, regardless of how important those duties are or how much they inconvenience others. If you’re a Catholic waiter, for example, you can refuse to serve gay couples or sell them food.

In general I don’t like discussions of “rights,” as their assertion is often a way to shut down discussion. Let’s instead talk of consequences: the consequences for society’s well being if religious people are allowed to shirk certain duties. When you think that way, as in the case of vaccination or, perhaps, a small county office where there’s one Catholic clerk who objects to gay marriage, or a pharmacy with one pharmacist, you’ll find that yes, some religious exemptions have merit and others don’t.

h/t: Randy

46 thoughts on “Pope implicitly supports Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gays

  1. The Pope is, to put it bluntly, agitating for sedition, with his own personal authority usurping that of the US government’s. And, let’s not forget: he is a foreign head of state.

    Wars have been started over less. I think the only reason he gets away with it is he has no divisions….


    1. The Pope is hopelessly stuck with the mindset that his imaginary god allows its adherents to get away with ignoring secular law. Despite all of the friendly noises that he makes, I will never believe that he is genuine until he turns all child-abusing priests over to the police.

      1. No matter how the Pope spins it (and I am yet to be convinced that his entire act is anything but a massive con to draw people back to fill the empty pews), let’s not forget he still is bound to the principle in Acts 5:29: “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.'”

        1. But, then again, it says “Render unto Cesar what he changes in rent…”, or whatever. It’s hard to appeal to such a soft document.

          1. Yes, and that really sums up the Church’s game nicely doesn’t it? They can always point to some Bible verse, a Pope’s Bicycle or other some bit of divinely received wisdom to confuse the topic at hand. That is the nice thing aboit having a collection of such contradictory riddles to choose from. Get the faithful in the pews and then drive home the real message…

    2. I think the reason he gets away with it is that nobody can take seriously the Vatican City’s status as a separate country. We have to keep reminding ourselves that this crackpot, as opposed to some fellow declaring himself King of the Flats Above the West End Ferry Terminal, in the vain hope that he thereby won’t have to pay rent, is actually recognised by the UN – and even so we still can’t quite believe it.

  2. The pope is simply being egregious here. He knows as well as anyone that people who cannot perform their job duties due to their “religious” sensitivities have one right, and only one, and that is the right to resign and go do something else; just as anybody else who doesn’t want to fulfill their job requirements. The employer also has a right and that is to fire employees who won’t perform their jobs. This isn’t complicated.

    1. If I understand correctly, Kim Davis was elected to her position, and it would be hard to fire her. But I suppose we would have to wait to her to resign.
      A cold day in hell comes to mind.

  3. The most generous reading of the Pope’s remark would be that he supports personal rights to object or protest against doing their job. The method of protest is not mentioned, so you could assume he means the person should be allowed to resign or be moved to a different area of responsibility, perhaps, not that they should be left in a position that allows them to impact the rights of others. Am I being too generous?

    1. The proper way for Kim Davis to exercise her right as an objector is to quit her $80,000/year job!!!

      She doesn’t have the right to stay in the job and refuse to do it. Otherwise, she’s the equivalent of a conscientious war objector who wants to be in the army and get the benefits of being in the military and refusing to fight!!!!

      1. Just as Jerry had the right to refuse to serve in the army if it required killing people, Kim Davis has the right to refuse to be County Clerk if that requires issuing licenses to gays. What Jerry did not have the right to do is enlist, collect his pay, and then say “Oh, by the way, I won’t shoot people.”

        1. There’s a world of difference between the anti-war conscientious objector who doesn’t want to be in the position of kill-or-be-killed; and an administrator who uses the power of her office to deny a legally-granted privilege to other people simply because the wind blew her Bible open to that page.

          As far as I’m concerned, her religious objection is reasonably accommodated by a change in her position description, “clerk does not make value judgements on the applicants, only certifies the applicants meet the legal requirements.” There’s no comparable accommodation when handing someone a military rifle.

    2. I would also rather go for a more generous reading. Likely there are many issues on the pope’s mind. And altho’ the question seems unequivocal to ‘our’ minds-it might not come across that way to his. The pope is in a very delicate position-movement too fast would make him powerless. I don’t know any more than anyone what direction he is trying to move the church-but whatever it is fundamental change will not come overnight. He has to turn a very big ship if indeed that is his intention. Meanwhile, support from the sidelines on any movement towards movement out of the dark ages will more possibly speed the process than criticism.

      1. Meanwhile, support from the sidelines on any movement towards movement out of the dark ages will more possibly speed the process than criticism.



        The only reason he’s even pretending to make noises about thinking about doing the same thing as always but with a spin that seems like it’s different is because of all the flack he’s been getting for being a backwards tyrant from the dark ages.

        Tell him, “Good job!” and why should he even keep up the act?

        What we need is real reform of the Church. He can keep his silly hats and do all his play-pretend teatime with zombie parties. But he’s got to stop obstructing justice in their efforts to bring down his private child prostitute racket; he’s got to stop spreading life-destroying propaganda in Africa; he’s got to end gender discrimination in the Church; and on and on and on and on.

        Anything less than that and we’re no better than praising Saudi Arabia for having the decency to give that kid a proper burial after chopping his head off instead of hanging his rotting corpse up for the vultures to peck at.


        1. “hanging his rotting corpse up for the vultures to peck at.”
          In S. Arabia, the justice system is managed by the Islamists. They like the smell of rotting corpses to intimidate (terrorize) the neighbors. They keep the lid on very tight. The Saudis simply hold their noses and keep their distance and enjoy the support of the imams. It’s a mutual respect thing.

    3. I noticed that possibility too. Is the Pope even keeping up on the Kim Davis controversy? Maybe the Vatican doesn’t realize that the world revolves around America.

  4. It’s useful that the Pope supports climate change action, but supporting Kim Davis is a setback.

    The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

  5. Francis and the Catholic Church remain a grave threat to LGBTS and their families worldwide.

    The fact that he was forced to resort to coded language during his visit to express the vile homophobic doctrines of his church is a victory for secular culture.

    It is not a cause to applaud him or to pretend that he is any less of a dangerous anti-gay bigot.

    He and his church continue to fund and support anti-gay initiatives around the world.

    Gay quislings who support this anti-gay pope and his church need to be called out.

    The false narrative that the RCC is becoming more gay-friendly needs to be loudly denounced.

    Catholic morality and the catechism are based on notions of natural law according to which human sexual activity must be guided toward the marital reproductive act. The chances are near 0 that homosexual sex acts or gay marriage will ever be considered acceptable within that framework.

    Pretending that the church is softening its stance is a dangerous deception. Cardinal Dolan enunciated the strategy soon after Francis’s election. Present a softer, more accepting face of Catholicism in order to draw people back to the church. Then teach them the “true” (i.e., anti-gay) church teachings about human sexuality. It is a cynical deception that too many are being duped by, aided by an effusive and uncritical media.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great varietyof forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of gravedepravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do notproceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
    2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

    1. You’re absolutely right and within Catholic circles, the devout are willing to admit this agenda far more openly. Among some of my devout family members, I saw this picture circulating last week. Note the part I bolded below:

      “So, let me explain Pope Francis to those of you who aren’t Catholic in a business example: Our boss from out of town is here to visit. And we love it that he is here–because he is just so approachable and makes everyone in the company feel like each and every one of them are important. I mean, yeah, his leadership is a little different than we are used to, but that’s okay because our competitors aren’t as hostile as we usually expect. Some of them even say that they love our boss as much as we do! (Which feels weird because usually, we have to hear comments on how tough and “out of touch” he is!) What’s interesting is that, while our boss is likeable, he is definitely tough on the company rules. He is tough because he believes that by challenging us, he is helping to make us better and stronger employees. He hasn’t changed any of the strict policies that our company has had for about 2,000 years, but he says them in such a way that employees, (even ex-employees and competitors) are more willing to listen than usual. So, please understand our excitement and our distraction from everything else happening in the world because– our boss is here– and we are trying to look busy!”

      1. That’s well put and I think sums up the position precisely.

        Pope Francis is no better than previous popes, he’s just better at PR. Let’s face it, the Catholic Church could do with some decent publicity for once!

        1. Let’s face it, the Catholic Church could do with some decent publicity for once!

          Decent publicity would be trivial. All Bergoglio needs to do is stop obstructing criminal investigations into the Church’s private child prostitution racket; end gender discrimination within the church; stop the genocidal disinformation campaign he’s waging in Africa; and the like.


  6. Religious prescriptions are not a licence to discriminate against other people for whatever reason (gender, race, etc.) I’m surprised that no organization has taken to court the Catholic Church for instance since in Canada anyway, a case could be made that not allowing woman to be priests or bishops is gender discrimination as specified in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I’m sure something similar applies in many other countries.

  7. The pope: “. . . conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

    The Kim Davis thing isn’t about conscience so much as about refusing to uphold the law. She could object to (disagree with) the law but it is her job to uphold it. If you conscientiously object to war, you don’t fight. If your job involves doing that which you object to, you quit your job or get yourself fired. Or you do your job and continue to disagree. By not granting those licenses she is denying a right to them. The law recognizes their right to choose. She is breaking the law. End of story.

    1. Exactly. And if he is so concerned about human rights, when is he going to give the same human rights that he gives to straight adult men to everyone else? He doesn’t care about the rights of women, LGBT people, and child abuse victims (which includes the mental abuse of children told they will go to hell for “sinning” in Catholic schools, or only their Catholic friends/family will go to heaven) to name a few (i.e. billions).

      And this whole orchestrated question is a cowardly move – note how it didn’t get asked until he was winging his way back to the Vatican. No risk of any protests about his remarks that way eh?

  8. A minor correction, and slightly OT: the new California vaccination law, signed in June, eliminates religious and “personal belief” exemptions from vaccination.
    But to the main point: you put it very well, conscientious objection is the right to refuse to do something, it is not the right to be free of the consequences of that refusal.

  9. I presume that the right to conscientious objection should extend to all religions. Strict Orthodox Jews or Muslims should therefore be exempted from all dealings with women in whatever profession they are in. It’s a matter of individual conscience.

    1. Sure, they just don’t have the right to a job. Any private employer should be able to say “this job entails dealing with people of both sexes – if you can’t do that, I’m not hiring you”; and every public employer should not only be able to say it, but actually should say it. Let Kim Davis get a job as part-time receptionist at her local church, if they want her, just not as a county clerk.

  10. Human rights are like administrative controls. We set out as humans from the savanna and along the way we make rules that keep as many of us alive and content.

    The Pope and Davis need to uninstall their bathroom GFCIs and see if faith can stop electrons. It’s their right to do so, it just happens to be against the law in America (for good reasons).

  11. The very groups supporting clerk Dim Davis’s blocking marriages of her disfavored group were against black-white marriages, for white superiority. There are people against Catholics marrying non-Catholics, all sorts of things. The segregationists did not want to hire blacks, nor give them public accommodations. For more than 1900 years, evil was perpetrated against Jews as Christ-killers. There is so much evil hidden behind “religious conscious”.

  12. It did not surprise me much to hear the Pope say he thinks the religious right to refuse service even when it is your job to do it (issue marriage licenses to everyone who comes through the door). After all, he is a foreigner here in the U.S. and maybe not an expert in our laws or history. It is rather sickening when we have thousands of republicans, some even running for president who do not understand the definition of religious rights, although they too are blinded by religion in this matter.

    The other thing that bothers me about this story is the use of the term conscientious objection. For most of us this term came out of war and was applicable to those who could not fight or carry the gun to kill the enemy for a variety of reasons. This is an honorable position to take and is accepted by most reasonable people. To use this term in describing Davis in this Kentucky event is a misuse of the term and a disservice to the true conscientious objectors. And as stated already, it was too late in her case to object to do the job she was elected to do.

  13. As long as the Clerk’s Office issues valid SSM licenses in a timely and convenient fashion, I don’t think anyone much cares whether Kim Davis, personally, handles the paperwork. As long as someone in the Clerk’s Office gets the job done without inconveniencing customers, that’s just a standard-issue religious accommodation that US law allows and encourages.
    But it seems to me that Davis is trying to muck up the process. She may be entitled to a religious accommodation, but the Clerk’s Office isn’t, and if she can’t keep the distinction straight she’ll be back in the hoosegow.

  14. I agree with the idea that people can object to laws they don’t like and refuse to participate. They implicitly also then have to accept the consequences. I, like the Professor, applied to be a CO during the Viet Nam conflict. I was turned down, so I was prepared to transfer to a Canadian chemistry program for grad school. I was lucky, however, that I was not drafted before my year of eligibility was up and I was reclassified 1H. Leaving the country would have been rather disruptive to my life, but I had decided to do it and had been accepted to a Canadian graduate program.

    Kim Davis has the ‘right’ to object to something she thinks is wrong and refuse to participate. She just can’t do it without consequences. If she wants to be the sacrificial lamb (to use a religiously tinged metaphor), she may do so. The courts can and, by law, should, block her efforts to prevent people from engaging in lawful behavior (getting a marriage license).

    As an aside, I’ll remain agnostic (!) for the time on whether Bergoglio’s efforts actually liberalise Catholicism. American Catholics, anyway, like ‘religious’ people everywhere, just ignore some of the silliness and get on with it. I’ve done research in Morocco and many of the scientists there are ‘secular’ Muslims. They party on the Eids and (sometimes) fast during Ramadan, but are relatively agnostic in their beliefs. This trend, if not interfered with by conservative forces, leads eventually to erosion of dogmatic belief and the secularization of society. If il Papa advances society towards that goal, even if it is not his intent, then more power to him.

  15. For the most part, I agree with the principle that, in a free society, the government should not have the power to compel its citizens to act contrary to their own conscience, religious or otherwise.

    If, as in the case of PCC, one cannot, in good conscience, take part in an armed conflict or war, they have a right to present their case for being exempted from military conscription/service as a “conscientious objector.” However, what one cannot do, barring the sort of hypotheticals seen only on the screen or in the pages of a novel, is to volunteer for military service, then claim some sort of “conscientious objector” status when a war comes along you do not personally support.

    (I am leaving out a good deal of nuance here for the sake of brevity.)

    By the same token, a government should not have the power to conscript people into a civil position/office, for instance a “county clerk,” that would involve providing some service for, or fulfilling some function on behalf of, their fellow citizens–knowing full-well that said service or function is legally-sanctioned–but would violate their conscience. As a general rule, our government does not go around doing that.

    This is why Kim Davis does not have a Constitutional leg to stand on. I am willing to wager that had the Supreme Court’s decision declaring same-sex marriage Constitutional been rendered before she decided to run for the office she was elected to hold and whose duties she swore to discharge, she would not have tossed her name into the hat in the first place.

    As a follow-up question to the Pope, I would ask what about the devout Catholics that work in our civil court systems and routinely deal with the legalities of divorces. Would it not be a greater sin to knowingly seek such employment, and then ask for special treatment later than to, on considered principal, to pursue an occupation unlikely to conflict with Catholic orthodoxy.

  16. Romans 13:1 – Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

  17. I saw a great comment on this subject the other day; I filed it, and titled it,

    And so it was that in the year 2020, religious correctness, i.e. run away religious doctrine, resulted in the abandonment of constitutional government. Even the American icon, Wal-Mart has been impacted.

    Checkout 9: I’m sorry sir, I’m Catholic. You’ll need to take your condoms to checkout 2.
    Checkout 2: Yes sir, I’ll ring up your condoms, but I’m Baptist. Please take your alcohol to checkout 5.
    Checkout 5. No problem sir, I’ll handle the booze, but I’m Jewish. Please take all non kosher foods to checkout 4.
    Checkout 4. Oh yes sir, no problem with kosher, I’m Hindu. But would you please take your beef to checkout 1.
    Checkout 1. Sir, you have a car part in your cart. I’m Amish. Please go to checkout 8 for that.
    Checkout 8. Sir, I notice you are in the military. I am Quaker. Please use checkout 7.
    Checkout 7. Car parts no problem. Uniform no problem. But please go to checkout 6 with pork. I’m Muslim.
    Checkout 6: Yes sir, pork is no problem. But you are buying a bible. I am an atheist, so please see checkout 9.

    Meanwhile in other news today, in a backward Kentucky county, former clerk Kim Davis, seeking her 5th marriage licence, was turned away by the new orthodox Catholic clerk who refused to grant a license based on her own religious beliefs. Said she, ” as a Christian and a Catholic, I cannot be a party to adultery.

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