An obscure law clerk refusing to do as she has been told.
That’s the news story of the day. But this individual event does not tell the whole story. Because the deeper question at play isn’t what we should do about any one person.
The battle ground happens to be one particular contest of wills, with very specific competing values.
The Individual (in this case, the clerk), is on record as saying, the people she is not issuing licenses for can legally marry, if they so choose. But endorsing that license with her own signature violates her personal conscience. She has said the licenses could proceed normally if her signature were not involved, but that answer did not satisfy the complainants.
She would argue that she, like you and I, has a protected right not to be forced by government not to violate her own conscience.
The State (in this case, the judge who found her in contempt) holds a different view. Because the clerk is a public servant, she acts as an agent of the government. Acting as an agent of the government requires putting personal biases aside, and doing the same job equally for all people.
The real question here is not who is right in this individual test case. The real question, goes to the heart of this face-off.
Who should have final say? Who’s really in charge?
To rephrase: are citizens servants (lackeys?) of their government, or the other way around?
Chris Rock once summed up the Progressive view with frightening accuracy, whether he meant to or not.
He claimed that the POTUS (Obama) is our boss, and POTUS and FLOTUS are like the mom and dad of the country. “When your dad says something, you listen. And when you don’t it usually bites you in the a– later on.”
(I’m guessing this may differ somewhat from his position during Dubya’s presidency.)
Meanwhile, the sentiment of the other side was well worded by one William Pitt. “unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it”. This is the same man who said that the Law’s defense of the private person was such that even the king cannot enter the most broken-down shack. “Even if the rain may enter, the king may not!”
Is the government’s reach now so long that it has perfect right to reach into the private will of the person, to coerce action against one’s own conscience?
Is employment by that same government (as an elected official, no less) now a forfeiture of personal conscience?
Is that now what we actually claim to believe?
This is ABSOLUTELY what was claimed by the judge who found the clerk in contempt. “The idea of natural law superseding [sic] this court’s authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed,” (link, h/t PJMedia)
(By which reasoning, of course, that the whole Declaration of Independence thing is a fraud, and therefore the judicial system employing said judge.)
The interest in this story stems directly from the issue in question. “Same-Sex Marriage” is today’s political lightning-rod issue, so, some people have taken sides for no reason but their personal position on that issue — either for or against.
But this is by no means the only situation where people have been told to do things — even as part of their job — that they are morally against.
There were Hobby Lobby rulings. Obamacare legislation (the government failed to comply with its own laws). Laws about building border fences and Sanctuary Cities. One family granted legal asylum by a judge was targeted for expulsion by the Federal Government. DOMA laws were not enforced. Government agencies (IRS) have been used to harass or punish political rivals. Government servers are wiped to hide certain communications (Hillary Clinton, and Ontario Premier) without any criminal prosecution. People can spend more time in prison for holding up a pro-life sign at an abortion clinic, than for molesting children. The list could go on.
The argument “do your job, it’s the law” only works if you are equally upset by offenses on both sides. If you do not chant “do your job, its the law” when the law disagrees with your biases, you are actually basing your opinion on something other than the supposed “job requirement” of public officials.
We all intuitively know certain examples are possible in which there is Zero expectation of “doing your job because its the law”. Conscientious objectors, for example, have no requirement to fire a rifle in combat.
Other instances take this further. In an extreme, but clear example, the Nuremberg trials did not condemn men for how well or poorly they followed orders. It condemned them for failing to disobey evil orders.
So obedience to an order, apparently, has to be measured against the moral value of the order given. This creates some problems for a relativist, Secularist culture.
Here, we run into an authority problem. Who decides about the morality of orders?
We don’t believe that a government does (see Nuremberg trials). There is an authority that supersedes the laws of a nation. But what?
Is that Final Authority found in the courts? If we accept that, we must accept the Dred Scott decision as valid. It was the law of the land, and handed down by the US Supreme Court. But we reject that decision as unjust. By what external standard did we measure it as unjust?
The will of the people? When a majority supported slavery, did that make it a good policy and practice? No. Something higher, then.
This is why conscience must not be infringed.
If the individual — alone — carries the consequence for making a wrong moral judgment call, then that individual must remain free to decide which call is the right one to make.