No, Kim Davis isn’t a martyr. But legally, she’s not wrong.

I’m dragging Dull Razor out of its dusty closet as a place to post my collected thoughts on the Kim Davis situation and its legal and moral ramifications. I’ll start with my fundamental assumptions: legally, I’m a fan of the Constitution and a pretty literal reading thereof. I generally err on the side of “more freedom.” Morally, as a Christian, I think one is beholden first to God and then to the government as His agent – in other words, one should seek to cooperate and abide within the legal system as much as possible without going against God’s law before resorting to breaking it.

So here we go.

When I first initially heard about the Kim Davis story, what I read was that a county clerk was refusing to perform gay marriages. That was it. The initial reporting was that she believed they were wrong, and so she wanted to put a stop to them. Hearing that, my immediate reaction was “well, Title VII doesn’t apply here since she’s a public employee, so she needs to quit.” I argued as much with a few friends and on Facebook about it, even as I laughed along with Mollie Hemingway at all the people who tried to turn her faith against her in ignorant fashion.

But as I started to read into it, I found out a few things. First, Davis didn’t seek to stop all gay marriages in the state. She just wanted her name off the license, and offered several suggestions on how this could be accomplished:

  • Providing an opt-out exemption for the marriage licensing scheme (as exists with game and fish licenses),
  • Deputizing a clerk to issue the licenses under that other clerk’s name,
  • Gaving a neighboring county sign off,
  • Modifying the license to remove the multiple references to her name,
  • Deeming Davis “absent” and thus allowing the fallback provision under KY law to have the licenses issued by the chief executive of the county,
  • Distributing marriage licenses at a state level instead of county level, or
  • Legislatively addressing the entire marriage license scheme in light of the Obergefell decision.

And then, I read a great piece by the inimitable Eugene Volokh on the subject, who pointed out something I’d somehow missed: Kentucky’s RFRA, as well as the Federal RFRA, do apply here, and those were the grounds for Davis’ request. Now several of these options seem to be easy for the state to provide, given their requirement under the RFRA to provide exemptions so long as there is no fundamental undermining of a compelling government interest. In other words – it’s cheap to remove her name from the licenses, and doing so does not undermine KY’s interest in any substantial way, so they would be required to do so.

But the local KY federal district court judge rejected her argument saying that having her name on the marriage licenses wasn’t a burden. Volokh points out that this is quite an error in judgement on the judge’s part, to the point of outright contradicting the most basic elements of Kentucky law. Davis refused to keep issuing licenses with her name on them, and the judge took the rather controversial route of tossing her in jail, rather than, say, fining her. But here’s where it gets really interesting, for me at least.

While Davis was in jail, clerks issued marriage licenses using “Rowan County” in the place where her name would normally be – which is almost exactly what she asked for in her appeal and was told would not be possible, or would result in illegal licenses. The plaintiffs don’t have any problem with that change, but Davis’ lawyers wanted it clarified that the licenses are being issued by another entity than her, and that’s where the current question lies – can she get her accommodation? And are those licenses issued while she was in jail even legal? Will she file an appeal with the state, as Volokh suggests? I think that’s her best option.

So! What’s the takeaway from this whole mess? Going back to my original premise, the thing to do is work within the legal framework as much as possible before breaking it. So I support Davis’s appeals, and I think she has a reasonable and just claim under RFRA. I think the judge was horribly unjust in his decision and needs a refresher course on the law, as well as the definition of “religious belief.” But at the point where her appeal was denied and there was no other legal recourse available, two options were available – comply, or go to jail. If compliance isn’t an option due to religious reasons, and you haven’t gotten an injunction from the state, then either accept the time in jail or step down. (I am assuming her stepping down at any point is a legally acceptable way out – I could be wrong on that point, though I’m not sure how.)

Assuming that, then legally, Davis still had the option of resigning her position, which would have kept her out of jail. Her “martyrdom” is one of her own making in that sense, not comparable (as I’ve seen some claim) to Daniel’s sentence to the lions’ den, as Daniel had no way out from under Darius’ decree. But, like Paul, Davis sought to use the legal system to her benefit. Paul escaped a beating and demanded his fair trial as a Roman citizen – Davis demanded her rights under RFRA to religious freedom. Despite the memes popping up on Facebook and Reddit, that actually does have meaning. Christians, along with anyone who believes in religious freedom and the Constitution of this nation, should be rightly upset with the judge’s decision, and hoping for relief if she files in state court. But at the same time, she isn’t a blameless victim in all this. Whether it’s her pride or she honestly believes she’s fighting injustice, I don’t know – but from the moment she defied the judge’s order onward, she’s brought anything that comes on herself.

No, work isn’t immoral

I saw this gem by a guy calling himself Saul of Hearts floating around Facebook and needed a spot to rant about it, so it’s time to get this old blog rolling again.

What are some of the phrases that come to mind when you think about work? Maybe you think about a “hard-working man/woman,” or having a “good work ethic.”

If you’re having a bad day, you might think about the “daily grind” or the “9 to 5 life.” Some days you’ll even think about “escaping from the cubicle.”

But chances are you associate words like “idling” and “leisure” as slightly less admirable. Fine in moderation, of course — but too much free time can’t be good for anyone. Right?

In America these days, it’s hard to find someone who thinks that working less might actually be a virtue.

And yet, I’m convinced that not only do we as a society work too hard, but we value work too much. Our insistence that work is inherently virtuous doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Here’s the first red flag, and what makes me think he’s gonna be a liberal. First he suggests that it’s rare to find anyone who thinks working less is a virtue – well, of course it is, because what he said was “virtue,” which means “a behavior showing high moral standards.” Working less is not an absolutely moral thing, in either direction. For instance, if I work sixty hours a week, and I reduce it to forty, then its morality depends on the reason and means – am I requesting fewer hours because I want to spend more time with my wife and kids? Or am I bailing out on my boss when I promised to work overtime because I just don’t feel like it today? It’s a nonsense statement.

Next, he suggests that there is a cultural insistence that “work is inherently virtuous.” I wish that this were the case! Maybe people would be less reluctant to work at anything, were it so. But let’s assume he’s right: again, I think there’s context to be understood here – sentiments like these: being productive is virtuous. Putting in a hard day’s work is good for the soul. When you work, work hard. I don’t think many would say “I’m only working 40 hours? If only I could work sixty, I’d be a better human being!”

In a recent article on LA’s car culture, Stephen Bondor cites the fascinating statistic that “There are more artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers and musicians living and working in Los Angeles than any other city at any time in the history of civilization”.

That’s remarkable. But what are these people doing with their time? Where’s the creative Renaissance that such a large population could surely bring to life?

Well a lot of them are attending liberal arts college, singing crappy covers in coffee shops, and generally being derivative and unremarkable. That’s because it’s now possible to brand yourself a musician without being able to earn a living as such – in fact, the statement he quoted there, in the article he quoted it from, is a recruiting bit from USC Stevens. But that aside, what do you call Hollywood of the last hundred years if not an instrument of immense creative power? (The recent trend of endless sequelmaking notwithstanding.)

For most of them, as much $8,000/yr of their income (and a substantial portion of their work week) is going toward owning a car so they can get to and from work.

Their creative projects are crammed into evenings and weekends, and funded by whatever money they have left after paying down student loans and car insurance.

In a rather convincing breakdown, Bondor demonstrates how an aspiring scriptwriter, simply by getting rid of his car, could reduce his day job in half and spend the remaining time “pursuing his passion”. He could be a professional screenwriter in half the time.

And yet … “pursuing his passion” has an unsavory ring to it, doesn’t it? It sounds kind of … selfish. Shouldn’t he be “doing his part” to “contribute to society”?

Bullshit. Passions are what change the world.

Blah blah cars are bad. If the guy has a job that he can’t walk or bike or take public transport to, why is he surprised that a car is required? It’s not like this is a surprise people spring on you after you get hired. If it’s important to you that you not need a car to get to work, then you can look for any number of jobs that fall into that category – and like any other limiting factor, accept that it means a smaller number of options to choose from.

But that’s just some distracting little aside designed to remind you how mean life is without having you think to hard before he drops his big point: society thinks passion is selfish, but passion is what changes the world! 

First off, society doesn’t think passion is selfish. Let’s skip over the purely practical applications and jump straight to creative passions, because I have a feeling that’s where this guy is going: Elton John has a passion for making music. Pat Rothfuss has a passion for telling stories. Steven Spielberg has a passion for making movies. Is the first thing you think when these names come up “selfish?” No, it’s probably something more like “great,” or “successful.” Society respects these people, not just for their work, but their success. You can probably name any number of smaller names who write books you like, sing songs you love, or otherwise make art you admire – do you think of these people as selfish for their art?

Now think of who you DO think of as selfish for pursuing a passion: the guy who quit his job and made his wife find a second job so he could stay home and paint terrible watercolors. The girl who’s 45 and living with her parents because she can’t stand to get a job that would hamper her ability to sing at local karaoke bars. These people have passions, but they pursue them in unrealistic ways that cause others to suffer: THAT is the selfishness, not having the passion.

As Buckminster Fuller — the great scientist and unconventional thinker — once put it, “We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest.”

The implications of this statement are obvious: Having more of our human workers get replaced by machines is the best thing that could possibly happen to us.

And yet in all the time that’s passed since Fuller made that statement — and all the technological advances since then — we’ve clung stubbornly to a 40-hr workweek.

I propose that this is not only stupid, it’s immoral.

It’s immoral to ask people to work when there’s no work that needs to be done. It’s immoral to create unnecessary labor so people have “something to do”.

Ah, here’s the meat. Didn’t I tell you I had the feeling Saul was a liberal? Full blown socialist, it turns out. He’s right that the technology exists to replace a lot of workers with robots, but conveniently ignores the part where that puts a lot of people without ways to earn a living, to put food on the table and roof over their head. The solution, I’m sure he finds obvious, is to make the successful pay for the rest – a typical solution socialists somehow find completely obvious. The problem is, almost no one really believes this or goes along with it when given the chance.

Bill Whittle has a scenario he likes to present at colleges: “How many of you identify as socialists?” Lots of kids raise their hands. “Okay, how many of you have smartphones?” They all raise their hands again. “Okay, come up here and give me your phones.” They ask why he wants their phones. “Well, I figure that the pawn shop across the street will easily give us a hundred bucks per phone – you guys give me twenty phones, that’s two thousand dollars! Then we can go to a poor part of town and just start handing everyone twenty dollar bills – we could take care of a hundred people that way!”

He’s never had anyone offer a phone. Why? Because that’s stupid. They worked for money and paid for a phone (or maybe their parents did), and it’s theirs. Guess what? They’re not socialists. They’re capitalists. They just don’t realize it. Who do they want to be handing out cash? “The rich,” “the 1%,” and the others who already pay for nearly everything in this country.  And that’s what Saul is doing with this article, just far more boldly: he suggests that the successful should give away all their money to pay for everyone else not to work. He never talks about the practicality of passions: if you quit your job to follow your passion, and that passion is useful and makes money, no one regards you as selfish. If you quit your job to sit at home, smoke weed, and play Xbox, and demand the rich (or your parents) pay for your lifestyle, then you’re being selfish.

There are already words for people who pay for others to pursue their passions: patrons, or venture capitalists. The key part here is that those people do it willingly, while Saul here would have you do it with a gun to your head. Turns out the word choices of “virtuous” and “immoral” give us a great look into this guy’s worldview – he actually believes that people creating jobs so people can earn a living, as opposed to simply giving them handouts, is morally wrong. That’s strong language. Theft is morally wrong. Murder is morally wrong. Job creation? Not even Barack Obama thinks that’s a bad thing.

This isn’t a brilliant view on the modern workplace. This is just radical liberalism in a different t-shirt.

Perniciousness, thy name is Buzzfeed

Via Ace, this gem – after my rant yesterday, it’s like the parasitic scourge that is Buzzfeed set out to prove my point for me. Some woman who no one has heard of, who only had 100 twitter followers, made a tasteless joke on twitter. I know! Totally newsworthy.

So yeah. Tasteless, but have you watched a primetime comedy lately? (Warning: Family Guy)

However, @BuzzfeedAndrew decided to make up for a slow news day by declaring her tweet the “worst tweet of all time”:

After the hordes of unwashed Buzzfeed readers were unleashed to enact social justice, her employer was besieged by complaints and released this statement:

“This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC. Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action.”

So before this woman even completes her flight, her life was forever altered, potentially ruined, by some jackoff at Buzzfeed who wanted to get more clicks, and knew how to exploit the elementary school bully complex in his idiot readers.

That’s progress, people. Bully culture at its finest, and all in the name of political correctness and social justice. Merry Christmas, Justine.

Duck Dynasty Debacle

It’s somewhat frustrating how people are so quick to point out that the whole thing with Phil Robertson has nothing to do with “free speech” – sure, A&E can suspend him without violating the First Amendment, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the point being made. No one is arguing the government should intervene and give Mr. Robertson his job back.

What is being discussed is the culture of free speech in America, something that has drastically declined in the last 15-20 years. There is a natural balance of reaction that used to take place: in other words, the punishment fit the crime. If someone said something stupid or mean, then other people corrected or made fun of him. Now, it’s somehow become commonplace (and in a truly bizarre turn, treated as “more civilized”) to dodge any confrontation and instead impose legal or economic sanctions on someone for comments. Instead of using our words to discuss these controversial issues, we’ve devolved into hate-slinging and twitter-length jabs, followed by a public thrashing of the person in question.

This happens with both sides: only a couple weeks ago, Martin Bashir was harassed out of MSNBC for making crude and offensive remarks about Sarah Palin. Should he have been mocked and rebuked for his comments? Absolutely. Should he have lost his job? Probably not, unless his crudeness became so distasteful to viewers that his ratings tanked.

Similarly here, we have a case of A&E “killing the golden goose” by removing one of the most popular figures on its highest-rated show to appease the politically correct requirement that someone be sacked for upsetting a LGBT lobbyist group. Think about this: who has the power to most quickly and directly impact your life without recourse if they want to penalize you for saying something they don’t like – your government, or your employer?

If the media organizations agree that something is Politically Incorrect and Worthy of Punishment, and use their position to attack your employer to coerce them into imposing real penalties on you – suspensions, demotions, mandatory behavior seminars, etc – just because you said something they don’t like… then you’re in a very scary place, and there’s not much you can do about it.

So yeah, A&E has the right to fire Phil Robertson. MSNBC had the right to fire Martin Bashir. But – as Ace pointed out this morning – they also have the right to stick up for people’s right to say what they want, even if it’s unpopular, and as media companies, they really have a vested interest in doing so. The pushback is not against the government. It is, and should be, against this idea that “of course your employer can and should fire you for expressing an opinion.”

Let’s just go back to being civil to each other and not seeking to destroy the people we disagree with. As an aside, I think Phil knew exactly what he was doing. He’s got a history of clashing with A&E over their censoring religious stuff from the show, and has said he doesn’t enjoy the cameras. My guess is he’s not exactly heartbroken.

Happy New Year

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

Eloquence courtesy of Neil Gaiman.

Happy New Year.