By Randall Holcombe • Monday September 7, 2015 9:25 AM PDT •
Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, has made the news by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She’s now in jail for contempt of court, because she has refused to uphold the recent court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry.
I have some sympathy for Davis, because when she took the job, issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples wasn’t a part of it. Now that the court has ruled it is, she objects to this extension of her job description on religious grounds. She should not be forced to violate her religious convictions.
But, she also should not remain in a government job in which she is unwilling to do what the job legally requires. So, let her follow her religious convictions, free her from jail, and fire her from a job that, on religious grounds, she doesn’t want to do.
My guess is this story would have generated much less controversy if the person involved was Muslim and didn’t want to carry out some activity that would violate sharia law. But, I don’t see a difference here. A person who refuses to do the job should be fired. Government employees should carry out the responsibilities assigned to them by government law.
Note the difference between this case and the cases where private businesses make choices based on their religious convictions, whether it is to not decorate cakes in ways that offend them, or not offer certain health care services to their employees on religious grounds. Private businesses should be allowed to make their own policies, and the situation parallel to the Davis case would be that people who disagree (customers or employees) should not be forced to interact with those businesses.
I’m not defending the government’s laws here. I’m saying that employees who don’t want to do what is required by their employers should be fired from their jobs. If the job description changes, as it did in the Davis case, the employee is no longer a good fit for that job.