The story about the Kentucky county clerk is here:
I supported same sex marriage in amicus briefs filed with the United States Supreme Court. If I were a county clerk I would issue the licenses as required by law and I would not have to endure conflict between such duties and the teachings of my Church, which supports same sex marriage.
But what if I were a judge faced with a death penalty case? Since the 1958 General Convention, U.S. Episcopal bishops have maintained a position against the death penalty.
Many other religious denominations also oppose capital punishment. Should a judge be required to impose the death penalty even if his fundamental religious belief is that it is wrong – perhaps a grave sin – to order the death of another person even for a horrible crime?
If we go too far in forcing people to undertake official duties regardless of religious beliefs, we will de facto impose a religious test for public office despite Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
There is a tension between the first and latter part of this clause in situations where the Constitution requires something that one’s religious beliefs prohibit. Devout Quakers probably cannot serve as generals in the Army unless they are willing to depart from, or at least qualify, the teachings of their denomination (a Quaker did serve as President during the latter part of the Vietnam War but he had no trouble qualifying when it came to matters of ethics generally, including war and peace). But should judges and county clerks be told that they must – at risk of imprisonment or impeachment or other dire consequences -- undertake tasks that conflict with their religious beliefs even if most of their official duties present no such conflict? Should they be required to choose between their faith and their jobs?
Individual public officials’ religious beliefs should not change outcomes for the public. The county clerk’s office in Kentucky should issue same sex marriage licenses. Perhaps the State could install an official at that office who will do just that. But should Kim Davis lose her job because she won’t? Is an Episcopalian – or any other believer -- who adheres to his or her denomination’s moral teachings on the death penalty unqualified to be a federal judge or a judge in states that have the death penalty? Or should cases where the death penalty is sought simply be assigned to other judges?
Somewhere there must be a middle ground where we can protect the public, uphold the law (even if some people think the law is wrong), and preserve enough space for those holding public office to carry out their duties consistent with their religious beliefs.