What a Great Country!

The jailing of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis over her refusal to follow the law and issue same-sex marriage licenses, and the furor it has caused, is being called many things. Some call it martyrdom for religious liberty, and some a hate crime against gays. Others say it's a tempest in a teapot.

I see the whole affair as an affirmation of the First Amendment's guarantee that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

First we have the Supreme Court ruling that gays have an equal right to marry, this despite the fact that a significant minority of Americans have contrary religious beliefs. Score a victory for no national religion.

Next we have Ms. Davis, who believes God forbids gays to marry. Because issuing marriage licenses to gays offends her religious beliefs, she doesn't have to do it. Accommodations have been made; deputy clerks can do it instead. Score a victory for religious freedom.

What a great country! Ms. Davis can even keep her job, which technically requires issuing marriage licenses to anyone legally entitled to marry.

Alas, Ms. Davis has refused to promise she won't interfere with deputy clerks who follow the law, instead choosing to go to jail. While she takes full advantage of one clause of the First Amendment, she would abolish another.

It's not enough for Ms. Davis to exercise her own religious views. She wants to impose those religious views on others.

Not only did she refuse to issue marriage licenses to gays, she refused to issue them to anybody to protest same-sex marriage equality. Make no mistake: she's making a case for establishing a national religion.

So, what now? The simplest thing would be to fire Ms. Davis, but because she's an elected official, only the Kentucky legislature can do that. We're led to believe that the legislature wouldn't comply, because it would threaten members' own re-election.

Keeping Ms. Davis in jail is a poor option, I think, first of all because that is precisely where she wants to be. I don't question her faith, but by choosing jail she is choosing an easy form of martyrdom.

Jail is an unpleasant place, but no one imagines that Ms. Davis will be abused. And the longer she is there, the more adulation she'll accrue from her supporters, including several G.O.P. candidates for president.

The real martyrdom would be for her to resign, sacrificing her income and her job. Then we'd know how deeply held her religious beliefs are.

Were it up to me I would promptly release Ms. Davis from jail, then arrange to issue marriage licenses in accordance with law. How about moving the process and deputy clerks to a building separate from Ms. Davis, and hiring a police officer to ensure she doesn't wander over and interfere?

Surely sooner or later Ms. Davis' compatriots would tire of the inconvenience and expense. Or not. Either way, the First Amendment lives. What a great country!

Bethe Dufresne, a frequent contributor, is a freelance writer living in Old Mystic, Connecticut.

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