There are times when it is simply impossible to take a politician seriously. For former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, I would say that threshold has been met many times in the past. But for those who had not paid much attention to him (and that is to your credit), today offers a good opportunity to ask whether Governor Huckabee has jumped the shark and whether it may be the case, just maybe, that the Presidency of the United States is not really for him. Normally, I would not spend precious time on Governor Huckabee. But I could not let this go without some response: his website calls upon the President and Attorney General to “immediately end this government’s criminalization of Christianity.” Yep, go ahead, let that sink in. This is the kind of thing that makes one want to laugh hysterically at, and endlessly mock, the very idea of some politicians actually holding any public office, much less the presidency. And it should go without saying that this kind of rhetorical campaign should not be taken seriously.
First, just as a threshold, “oh-by-the-way” kind of thing, Kim Davis was never accused of or convicted of a crime – while criminal contempt is a crime in the ordinary sense, civil contempt is not; Kim Davis was jailed on civil contempt, not criminal contempt. Also, there is a legitimate argument, on the text of the statute, that she could be criminally prosecuted for the willful deprivation of rights under color of law. But I am not aware of any federal official who is even contemplating prosecution of her. Hardly what you would expect from a government that has “criminalized Christianity.” But beyond that point, the rhetoric is insulting to those of us engaged in honest debates about real criminalization in this country. And it is my hope that soon, all of the candidates will engage in a meaningful discussion of the emerging crime problem in America. Defend Kim Davis if you want, but ditch this “Christianity-as-Crime” narrative. It, like much else we hear from Governor Huckabee and others, is unworthy of a serious presidential candidate.
Still, I’m confused. Governor Huckabee, in addition to defending Kim Davis’s right to act on her personal beliefs, has also said that Obergefell v. Hodges is not binding law because it is just the decision of “five unelected lawyers” on the Supreme Court (I’m not sure how that is less legitimate than following the decisions of one elected preacher, but okay). So, then, is the defense of Kim Davis based on the exercise of her religious liberty, or is it based on her interpretation of the Constitution? Does she have a right to disobey the court order because she has religious opposition to the Obergefell decision, or is it because the decision was wrong? That distinction might matter. Is Huckabee saying that only religious people get to disobey the law, or can anyone disregard a Supreme Court decision because they think it is wrong and, after all, it is just a small group of unelected lawyers who render those decisions?
Would Governor Huckabee, or any other candidate, be willing to defend a government official who refused to recognize and obey every Supreme Court decision? Or would he do so only if the official was acting on the basis of a religious viewpoint? Or would he limit his defense to those people who disregarded Supreme Court decisions with which he also disagreed? I’m puzzled by his position on this.
I do not know but I assume, for example, that Governor Huckabee supports the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Wisconsin v. Yoder, which held that a Wisconsin compulsory school attendance law violated the religious free exercise rights of the Old Order Amish, who wanted to remove their children from school at age 14. What if a state official disagreed with the decision of six unelected lawyers in that case and decided to enforce the school attendance law against the Amish anyway? I would imagine Governor Huckabee would have a problem with that.
His website says that “our Constitution guarantees reasonable safeguards to protect the rights of dissenters.” Indeed it does. But this just begs the question. While we should value and protect rights of dissent, there are limits to the scope of one’s ability to act on his dissent. Now, Kim Davis’s actions, of course, were certainly peaceable and nonviolent. But the question is how far a particular person may go in dissenting. No one is punishing Kim Davis for disagreeing with the Court’s Obergefell decision, just as, in my hypo, no one could punish Wisconsin officials for merely disagreeing with the Yoder decision. But mere dissent, and official action, are not the same, just as personal religious views and official action are not the same. We can talk about whether she is entitled to some kind of civil disobedience here, but let’s not pretend that she was jailed for simply being a Christian who disagrees with the Supreme Court.
This is not meant as a personal affront to Governor Huckabee; he seems like a kind man with sincere beliefs. But this “criminalization of Christianity” stuff is beyond bizarre. Rather than launching a patently ridiculous rhetorical campaign to end the “criminalization of Christianity” in America – which Governor Huckabee, if he has any sense at all, must know is patently ridiculous – would it not make more sense to spend each day advocating a detailed legislative plan to overturn the Obergefell decision, and seeking broad public and congressional support for doing so? I have looked at the Huckabee campaign website and cannot find any such proposal, though I would imagine he would support something of the sort. And, to be fair, maybe he has made such a proposal and I am simply unaware of it. A proposal to amend the Constitution to forbid same-sex marriage would, in my view, likely fail spectacularly (as it should). But that, it seems to me, would get him far closer to his goal than defending the legal disobedience of a single county clerk. And it would be far more consistent with the conservative inclination toward using existing institutions and legal frameworks to achieve deliberate political change, rather than disobeying the law – which seems, well, not conservative.