There is little doubt that a majority of Americans believe that Kim Davis, by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, has violated her oath of office. Thus, she should pay the consequences for not performing her job, whether that is removal from office or incarceration for contempt of court. However, her actions raise a larger, and much more fundamental, issue: What role should religion and religious beliefs play in politics and governing?
An interesting journal article entitled “Religion and American Politics: Three Views of the Cathedral,” Paul Horwitz analyzes speeches by John F. Kennedy, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama to illustrate different views of religion’s place in politics. Kennedy’s speech, according to Horwitz, illustrates a strategy of avoidance. Religious candidates are welcomed, but religion is considered a private matter that holds no place in political dialogue. On the other hand, both Romney and Obama advocate inclusion and engagement, but each sets limits on either the engagement or inclusion. For Romney, religious views should be included in the political dialogue, but wants to avoid engagement. On the other hand, Obama offers an engagement between religion and politics, but wants to limit the inclusion by requiring religious candidates to speak only in secular terms.
The following long excerpt from Horwitz’s paper presents his preference for both inclusion and engagement in discussions of religion and politics:
How is this relevant to Kim Davis and her actions? I believe that Davis represents a growing number of people in the United States—especially in the South—who want both inclusion and engagement. Religious positions on public policy should be engaged, and religious political actors should be able to use religion as the basis for their policy positions. Thus, Davis’ religious beliefs are justification for her actions—inclusion and engagement. And the discussion should be, as Horwitz maintains, a civil discussion of how such a religious justification for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples should apply to this and other public policies. Interestingly, some of the cartoons do a better job of addressing this issue than discussions by political pundits. I hope that a discussion of Davis’ actions that is “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” ensues, but I’m not holding my breath.