Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and Religious Freedom
It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court did not follow its own principles when it decided to deny a request from Kim Davis to stay the decision to force her to issue marriage licenses. Kim Davis is, of course, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has now been jailed on contempt of court charges for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to anyone in order not to have to violate her deeply held religious beliefs by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
In response to many other cases, some have argued that it would be fair and should be possible to provide reasonable accommodation to individuals when confronted with the need to act in violation of their religious beliefs. Such accommodation would allow them to step aside and have others fulfill their role. Such might be the argument when a cake baker refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding; there are other establishments that can provide the service. In the case of the Rowan County clerk’s office, Kim Davis would be allowed to step aside and one of her deputy clerks who did not share her religious beliefs could issue the license. In fact, with Kim Davis in prison on contempt of court charges, this is exactly what happened.
But for Kim Davis, as for all freedom-loving religious people, religious freedom is more far reaching. As the lead clerk in her office, she forbade her deputy clerks from issuing the marriage licenses, extending her rights of religious freedom to the government office she was in charge of.
In the Hobby Lobby case which came before the Supreme Court, the main shareholders of the closely-held corporation insisted that they had the religious freedom to refuse to provide to their hired hands contraceptives required by law as part of a health insurance package. In agreeing with them, the Supreme Court acknowledged implicitly that an entity such as the Hobby Lobby corporation has the right to ensure that individuals run their lives in accordance with the owner’s beliefs, thus fortifying religious freedom.
Had the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kim Davis, they would similarly have allowed her to extend religious freedom to her subordinates, and this would have deflected the violation to the office’s freedom of religion that occurred when those subordinates issued marriage licenses the following day.
The affirming consequences of allowing a government entity to act in accordance with its religious freedom would have extended the principle of First Amendment Rights for corporations that the Supreme Court acknowledged in Citizens United. Imagine the consequences: a mayor could extend religious freedom to her community so that all would have the freedom to abide by her beliefs; maybe even a governor to a whole state; maybe even a Senate or a President to the whole nation, so that all individuals could partake of religious freedom together.