It is surely odd that presidential candidates today are arguing that religious beliefs should somehow supersede an elected official’s constitutional oath.
For 55 years ago this week, another presidential candidate had to swear the exact opposite to appease a group of skeptical Protestant ministers.
In 1960, the nation was gripped by the idea that a Catholic president might willfully ignore U.S. laws and instead follow the Vatican’s doctrines.
“So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in,” John F. Kennedy told a minister’s association on Sept. 12, 1960.
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“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”
Which brings us to Kim Davis, conscientious objector. And to Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and assorted other would-be presidents cheering her on.
Davis is the county clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Freed by a federal court order on Tuesday, she has become a cause célèbre for conservatives unhappy with the Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for gay marriage in America.
All of which is fine. You can disagree with the Supreme Court. You can disapprove of same-sex weddings. You can interpret the Bible in any way you see fit.
But what you cannot do is defy your constitutional oath.
That is what Davis has done. That is what Cruz and Huckabee — and to a lesser degree Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other Republican candidates — are advocating.
“Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith,” Cruz said. Uh, no.
She was put in jail because she refused to do the job she swore to uphold.
The judge’s contempt ruling had nothing to do with her faith. Cruz went to law school and understands the legal distinction, which means he’s deliberately misstating the circumstances in order to pander to his flock.
Davis is exercising her own belief system in direct conflict with the rules of her elected office. This is not something that can be blithely dismissed. Not unless we want to subject every constitutional duty to anyone’s moral code.
For instance, Davis has been divorced three times. What if, somewhere along the line, a judge decided this was a sin and refused to grant her a divorce?
My intent is not to ridicule Davis. It is to point out the slippery slope of allowing elected officials to ignore the duties of their office for any reason.
If she were really being honest and principled, she would acknowledge that holding this office has become incompatible with her religious beliefs.
And she would resign.
John Romano is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.
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