Separation of Church & State – Kim Davis: Martyr?

On September 3, 2015, Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, was ordered to jail for contempt of court for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  This has prompted many conservative Christians and Republican presidential candidates to call Ms. Davis a martyr and to compare her to Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks.  Her supporters have argued that her First Amendment rights to freely exercise her religion have been violated and that she has been incarcerated for her religious beliefs.  The truth, though, is that she was not incarcerated for her religious beliefs.  The truth is she has blatantly violated the Constitutional rights of the same-sex couples whom she refuses to issue marriage licenses to.   And, the truth is she has violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against an establishment of religion.

Ms. Davis, an Apostolic Christian with a sincere religious objection to same-sex marriage, announced back on June 26, 2015, just hours after the United States Supreme Court held that states are constitutionally required to recognize same-sex marriage that the Rowan County Clerk’s office would no longer issue marriage licenses to any couple.  This was done to ensure that she would not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even though the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to be married, the Governor of Kentucky had explicitly instructed county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and it was her responsibility under Kentucky law as the Rowan County Clerk to issue marriage licenses to any couple that is legally qualified to be married in Kentucky.  Ms. Davis, in her official capacity as the Rowan County Clerk, was sued by two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses.  On August 12, 2015, Judge David L. Bunning of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky issued a preliminary injunction preventing Ms. Davis from applying her “no marriage licenses” policy.  Ms. Davis refused to follow the judge’s order and appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and to the United States Supreme Court.  Her appeal was denied by both.  On September 3, 2015, Ms. Davis further refused a proposal to simply allow her deputies to process same-sex marriage licenses.  Ms. Davis was held in contempt of court and Judge Bunning ordered her to be incarcerated.  Judge Bunning has since ordered her to be released from jail and to not interfere with her deputies issuing marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.

Immediately, her attorneys, several Republican presidential candidates, and other supporters denounced the Federal Court’s decision.  Roger Ganman, an attorney for Ms. Davis said, “Today, for the first time in history, an American citizen has been incarcerated for having the belief of conscience that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and she’s been ordered to stay there until she’s willing to change her mind, until she’s willing to change her conscience about what belief is.”  Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said, “Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny.”  Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has demanded that “we must end the criminalization of Christianity!”  And, Fox News reporter Todd Starnes compared Judge Bunning to Bull Connor saying, “I truly believe Judge Bunning wanted to intimidate Christians and send a very clear message – that resistance to same-sex marriage will not be tolerated – doing with the gavel what Bull Connor tried to do with dogs and fire hoses.”

But, this rhetoric misses the point.  Upon taking office, Ms. Davis took the following oath of office, “I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of Rowan County Clerk according to law…”  Yet, Ms. Davis, since June 26, 2015, has not only failed to support the United States Constitution, but has openly refused to do so.  Ms. Davis was not “incarcerated for having the belief of conscience that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” she certainly was not incarcerated until she changed her mind regarding her beliefs on same-sex marriage, and there is no evidence that Christianity has been criminalized.  Ms. Davis was incarcerated solely because she disregarded a direct order from Judge Bunning.  She was not incarcerated because of her religious beliefs, but because of her actions, as an elected state official, that violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky.

Further, Ms. Davis’ First Amendment rights have not even been violated.  The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion or impeding the free exercise of religion.  Ms. Davis remains free to believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.  Ms. Davis remains free to exercise her religion as she sees fit.  She is free to attend services at any church of her choosing and no one is asking her to renounce her beliefs.  Simply, she is free to believe that same-sex marriage is wrong and to live her life accordingly.

But, she is not free to impose her Apostolic Christian beliefs, as the elected County Clerk, on the people of Rowan County, Kentucky.  And, by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she is doing just that.  This is a very clear example of a First Amendment establishment of religion violation.  This prohibition against an establishment of religion is the fundamental principle that allows all Americans to practice their religious beliefs freely and openly without fear of the government.  It is precisely what ensures the separation of church and state.  As Christians, we should be celebrating this decision, not because we celebrate Ms. Davis’ incarceration, but because we celebrate the continued religious liberty of all.

The truth is Ms. Davis is not a martyr.  She is not the apostle Paul or John the Baptist or any number of other true martyrs who have been incarcerated and even put to death for their religious beliefs.  Ms. Davis is free to believe that same-sex marriage is morally wrong and is free to follow her religious beliefs.  She is free to resign her government position and exercise her religious beliefs anyway she sees fit, but she is not free to continue to take her state salary as the elected Rowan County Clerk and to violate the constitutional rights of same-sex couples and to even violate the First Amendment’s prohibition on an establishment of religion by forcing her personal beliefs on everyone else.  Again, she has never been asked or forced to renounce her beliefs.  She has merely been asked to do her job, in accordance with the United States Constitution, just as she swore an oath to do.

If at this point you still support Ms. Davis and believe that she has been incarcerated for her religious beliefs and that she should be free to instruct the Rowan County Clerk’s office to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in direct contradiction to the established law of the land as set forth by the Supreme Court and as instructed by the Governor of Kentucky, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  1. If Ms. Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to mixed race couples because it violated her religious beliefs, would you still support her?
  2. If Ms. Davis were a Muslim and she refused to issue driver’s licenses to women, because of her beliefs, would you still support her?

Much like with the 10 Commandments debate, we, as Christians, need to be careful what we do while we are the majority in the United States.  There may come a time when we truly need the protections of the First Amendment – to ensure the freedom to exercise our religious beliefs as we see fit and the guarantee of the separation of church and state, but this is not that time.  We live in an amazing country where we are free to exercise our religion as we see fit.  We do not fear reprisals from the government, because we are Christians, because we openly attend church, or openly proclaim our belief in Christ, as many of our Christian brothers and sisters have.  We must celebrate the religious protections found in our Constitution and work feverishly to protect them for people of all faiths, to ensure they are here if we need them.

9 Things to do After Being in an Auto Accident

Odds are, you will be involved in a car accident at some point during your life.  On average, there are more than 6 million car accidents each year in the United States and more than 3 million people are injured.  If you have been in a car accident, there are things that you should do immediately to protect yourself and your rights:

  1. STOP – Immediately stop your vehicle after an accident and never leave the scene of the accident, even if it is just a minor accident.
  2. CALL THE POLICE – It does not matter if you believe you are at fault for the accident, or if you believe the other driver is at fault for the accident; whether the other driver admits it was their fault; whether there are injuries, or if it is just a minor accident—it is very important to call the police and have them create an accident report. Accident reports provide excellent evidence in case there is a dispute as to who was responsible for causing the accident.
  3. NEVER ADMIT FAULT – Accidents can be complex and confusing situations. Even when you believe you are at fault, do not admit that to the other driver, to any witnesses, or to the police.  Leave this to your insurance company, or to your attorney to sort out.  If you do admit fault at the scene (even if you just apologize to the other driver), this can be used against you later.
  4. EXCHANGE INFORMATION – Typically, the responding police officer will obtain this information; however, while waiting for the police to arrive, it is worth the time to go ahead and exchange information with the other driver. Specifically, this should include the name, address, and phone number of everyone involved in the accident (including passengers) and the other driver’s insurance information.  If there are any witnesses, get their names, addresses, and phone numbers.
  5. TAKE PICTURES – While waiting for the police, take pictures of all of the vehicles involved in the accident, of the scene of the accident, and of any visible injuries. If you cannot take pictures at the scene of the accident, take them as soon after as you can.
  6. GET MEDICAL TREATMENT – It is very common for injuries caused by minor accidents to not become apparent for several days. Many of our clients tell us that they felt fine immediately after the accident, because of the adrenaline of being involved in an accident, but that they were in pain a day or two later.  Because it is so common for these injuries to become apparent after the accident, it is very important to go to your family doctor or to your local emergency room and get checked out.  Always remember, serious injuries can result from minor accidents.
  7. REPORT THE CLAIM – Make sure you notify your insurance company of the accident as soon as possible. Even if the accident is not your fault, your insurance company may provide uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage or medical payments coverage to you, if you have been injured.  As long as the accident was not your fault, your insurance premiums should not increase as a result of submitting a claim for med pay coverage.  Keep in mind, if you hire an attorney, your attorney will gladly do this for you.
  8. KEEP RECORDS – Keep track of everything related to the accident—this includes the accident report, any communications with the other insurance company or your insurance company, medical records, and medical bills. Also, keep track of any out of pocket expenses related to the accident, such as a rental car, prescriptions, or other expenses, and any time that you have had to miss from work or school.
  9. TALK TO AN ATTORNEY – The most important thing you can do after an accident is talk to an attorney. The other driver’s insurance company is not here to help you, no matter what they say.  They have one job, and only one job:  to settle your claim for as little money as possible.  Often times, they will offer a quick settlement for any personal injury claims—do not accept it.  The worst thing you can do is settle an injury claim before you know how injured you are, or before you have completed your treatment.  Your attorney can handle all aspects of your claim:  from making sure you are properly compensated for the damage to your vehicle and injuries, to making sure you are getting the best medical treatment available.  And, don’t worry, at The Cotton Law Firm, we work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay us anything up front, and won’t pay us anything at all, unless we recover money for you.

If you have been in an accident and are in need of an auto accident attorney, give us a call and we will do everything we can to help you through this process.

Oklahoma Bans Texting While Driving

Oklahoma Bans Texting While Driving

On May 5, 2015, Governor Mary Fallin signed House Bill No. 1965, making Oklahoma the 46th State to prohibit texting while driving.  Specifically, Section 2(A) states, “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle on any street or highway within this state while using a hand-held electronic communication device to manually compose, send or read an electronic text message while the motor vehicle is in motion.”  However, the law does quite a bit more than just prohibit texting while driving:

  • First, “electronic communication device” is not limited to just a cell phone.  It includes any electronic device that permits the user to manually transmit written text.
  • Second, and perhaps most important, “text message” is not limited to just a text message, but is defined to include text-based messages, instant messages, electronic messages, photo, video or electronic mail.

Exceptions To The Law

There are also several exceptions to the ban on texting while driving built into the law.  For example, a driver may use “a device that is physically or electronically integrated into a motor vehicle or a voice-operated global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to a motor vehicle.”  It also makes an exception for using a hands-free device that allows the user to write, send or read a text message without the use of either hand except to activate, deactivate or initiate a feature or function.  And, there are specific exemptions allowing a driver to communicate with an emergency response operator; a hospital, physician’s office or health clinic; a provider of ambulance services; a provider of firefighting services; or a law enforcement agency regarding an imminent emergency situation.

Keep in mind, before this law was passed, a driver could not be pulled over solely for texting while driving under the distracted driving laws.  Now, however, texting while driving is a primary offense and a driver can be pulled over just for texting while driving.

The bottom line is that even though this is a law “relating to texting while driving,” it is much broader.  A driver in Oklahoma can now be pulled over and given a ticket of up to $100.00 for sending, receiving, or reading a text message, e-mail, picture, or even posting on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or other social media platforms.  Remember, this ban only applies while the motor vehicle is in motion.  So, if you just have to text someone or post what song is on the radio right now, do it quickly while you are sitting at a traffic light and you will not risk getting a $100.00 ticket to do so!

Devil Be Gone: Oklahoma and the Ten Commandments Monument

Ten Commandments Monument – Court Ruling

On June 30, 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on an Oklahoma citizen’s challenge to the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol.  As most are aware, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the monument must be removed.  Based upon the Oklahoma Constitution, this was the correct decision.

Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution states: “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”  This section of the Oklahoma Constitution clearly bans the State Government from using any public money or property for the benefit or support of any religious group.  This ban remains, even if the use of public money or property only indirectly benefits any religious group.  Thus, the only question is whether the placement of the Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol, in any way, benefits or supports religion.  Obviously, the Ten Commandments are a central part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.  And, in this State, the reason so many people are upset with this decision is because of the importance of the Ten Commandments to Christianity.  That is precisely why, pursuant to the Oklahoma Constitution, the Ten Commandments monument had to be removed.  To have the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol, public property, clearly provided an indirect benefit to Christianity.  This is what is forbidden by the Oklahoma Constitution.

Since this decision, there have been calls by members of the Oklahoma legislature to repeal this section of the Oklahoma Constitution or to impeach the Supreme Court justices that voted for this ruling.  Both of those would be folly.

Removing the Ten Commandments Monument

First, repealing this section of the Oklahoma Constitution for the sole purpose of putting the Ten Commandments monument back at the State Capitol would be pointless.  More likely than not, this Ten Commandments monument also violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The First Amendment, in relevant part, states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  The First Amendment applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.    In Van Orden v. Perry, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.  This Ten Commandments monument was nearly identical to the one that was on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol and the Supreme Court found that it was permissible for Texas to have it.  Unfortunately, there are significant factual differences between the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument and the Texas Ten Commandments monument.  For example, the Texas Ten Commandments monument was a gift from the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1961 and had been in place for 42 years before the lawsuit was filed challenging its placement.  Further, it was part of a display of seventeen monuments, all located on grounds registered as a historical landmark, and it was carefully located between the Supreme Court building and the Capitol building housing the legislative and executive branches of government.  The Supreme Court specifically mentioned the importance of these facts in determining that the Texas Ten Commandments monument was permissible.  By contrast, the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument has no history.  It was placed on the grounds of the State Capitol in 2012.  It was not donated to the State by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, or some other secular organization.  It was paid for by the family of State Rep. Mike Ritze, who also authored the bill to allow for the Ten Commandments monument to be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol.  Further, this monument was not placed among many other historical monuments, but was placed in an isolated location far from the main entrance to the Capitol.  Because the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument is a new monument with no history, it is likely the Supreme Court would find it is in violation of the First Amendment.

Second, the United States Constitution was put in place not to protect the majority.  The Constitution is there to protect the rights of the minority.  We, as Christians, need to be careful what we do while we are the majority.  If recent studies are to be believed, there may come a day when we are no longer the majority.  Whether that new majority would be of a different religion or no religion at all, we would be the ones in need of the protections of the Constitution.  Protections to guarantee that a new majority religion cannot become state sponsored or supported by public funds or property and protections to guarantee that we may still freely practice our religion would become even more important.  Removing those protections now, because people are upset that a new monument to the Ten Commandments cannot be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol, would be an unwise and short sighted thing to do.

Finally, our country was founded on the separation of powers and the respect for the rule of law.  To threaten to impeach the Supreme Court justices because we disagree with them is absurd.  Based upon the Oklahoma Constitution, these Supreme Court justices were simply doing their jobs.  If we disagree with their legal reasoning, it is our duty to engage them in honest debate, not to threaten them and shout them down so we no longer have to listen to their opinions.  The world, our country, and our state is filled with people who disagree with us.  We must be able to engage in civilized disagreement and be able to discuss different positions with people that do not believe as we do, for this is how we grow as an individual and as a society.