The case of a Wyoming judge has not made the big news as yet but looks set to be a very important and significant case. Here is the mainstream narrative from the Associated Press:
The Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics is recommending the court remove Municipal Judge and Circuit Court Magistrate Ruth Neely of Pinedale. The commission started investigating Neely after she told a reporter in 2014 she would not perform same-sex marriages because of her religious beliefs…. In a similar case, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, a born-again Christian, was jailed briefly last year after she refused to allow her office to issue marriage licenses, igniting a national debate over religious freedom and civil rights. Davis ultimately altered the licenses to remove her name and title.
You can read the whole account here.
There are serious errors of fact with this account which make the comparison to the case of Kim Davis most egregious and frankly mischievous. First, the Commission insists that Judge Neely cannot remain a municipal judge. This is incorrect. Municipal judges are not actually allowed to solemnize marriages so Neely’s views on that subject are irrelevant to her ability to perform the job. Second, as a circuit court magistrate, Judge Neely has discretion when it comes to solemnizing marriages. She cannot be compelled so to do. In short, this is a clear piece of ideological bullying based on on a crafty piece of press entrapment working the usual angles in the current anti-culture. Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever that Judge Neely’s personal religious views have impacted her professional behavior in any negative way at all. Judge Neely’s brief carries testimony from the LGBT community on precisely this score (page 3):
The fundamental principle that no judge should be expelled from office because of her core convictions unites a diverse group of Wyoming’s citizens, including members of the LGBT community who have expressed dismay at the Commission’s actions here. Most notably, Kathryn Anderson of Pinedale said that “it would be obscene and offensive to discipline Judge Neely for her statement . . . about her religious beliefs regarding marriage.” Anderson Aff. ¶ 5 (C.R. 901-02). Judge Neely asks this Court to heed Ms. Anderson’s words, reject the Commission’s recommendation to expel her from her profession, and allow her to continue serving her community with excellence as she has done for more than two decades.
We should all reflect on the significance of this case because it has far-reaching legal and cultural implications. Can one not hold public office in the United States now unless one is committed to the latest ideological fad, regardless of whether that fad is actually relevant to one’s work? Could one be a public school teacher—or a teacher of any government accredited school for that matter—without subscribing ex animo to whatever the creed of the day happens to be? And where will this end? Given the Unholy Trinity’s ability to defy democracy and transform our world according to its own tastes, are private persons any safer in the long term than public employees?
Further, given the constantly changing goal-posts of a politics immersed in the emotivist chaos of competing psychological identities and subjective personal rights, why on earth would anyone now want to pursue a career that in five, ten, or fifteen years might be torn from them simply because somebody somewhere finds a right to goodness-knows-what in the Constitution—even, as in this case, when their job does not actually require them to be involved in said goodness-knows-what? However bien-pensant you like to think you are, there will always be somebody out there who is more so. And if they take charge, you might find your own revolution devouring its own children.
I am no right-wing knee-jerk opponent of government. I wrote a book called Republocrat, for pity’s sake, calling for a healthy degree of non-partisan pragmatism in our political thinking. But we are living in a world where this government has promoted an attitude to life which now aspires not simply to referee public behavior but to control the very thoughts we have and to decide on that basis whether we are legitimate members of society or not. And if you don’t have those thoughts, you better have them soon or face the consequences of being a functionally stateless person. This will not stop with municipal judges. The Unholy Trinity of the entertainment industry, big business, and the law courts will make sure of that.
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.