How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

The Pope and Kim Davis

I, like millions of other Americans – Catholics and non-Catholics – got caught up in the pope pandemonium. I was especially taken by Pope Francis's passionate appeals to treat immigrants with dignity, reminding us that it was immigrants who built the United States.

His clarion call for compassion contrasted dramatically with Donald Trump's ugly xenophobic clamor about Mexican immigrants being "criminals" and "rapists."

In spite of the pope's left-leaning comments on immigration, the environment and the evils of certain aspects of capitalism, I didn't expect him to alter the church's long-standing positions on abortion, ordination of women or gay marriage.

According to Catholic law, marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman, joined as husband and wife in an intimate partnership of life and love. Since "homosexual union" cannot produce offspring, according to Catholic doctrine it should not be given the status of marriage. I get it – these are the basic rules or laws of the religion.

Likewise, the government expects its people to live by its laws and the people who serve in government and took an oath of office to be bound to uphold and administer the laws of the land, plain and simple.

The intersection of religion and government service was a major issue in the 1960 presidential campaign when there were charges that JFK would "take orders from the pope" and could not uphold the oath of office. Kennedy responded to these charges by saying, "Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates...."

"But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and hope any conscientious public servant would do the same."

America is grounded in the rule of law; it is one of the things that make us different from other countries. If you disagree with the law you can attempt to change it from the ballot box, or if you are a county clerk and your conscience requires that you must deny gay couples marriage licenses in violation of the Supreme Court ruling, you can heed JFK's advice and resign. 

At this point it appears that the pope was hoodwinked into meeting with embattled Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis at the Vatican Embassy. Subsequent to the visit, the Vatican has attempted to distance itself from Davis. The pope's spokesperson has made in clear that the encounter with Davis "should not be considered a form of support of her position."

What is not in dispute is the pope's response to ABC News reporter Terry Moran's question on the airplane going back to Rome. He asked whether someone who feels in good conscience that they cannot abide by a law in their discharge of duties as a government official, such as issuing marriage licenses, can refuse on the basis of claim of religious liberty.

The pope answered: "I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is part of every human right." When pressed as to whether this also included government officials he added, "It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right."

If the pope understood the question, he seems to be sending the message that it is OK for elected officials to refuse to uphold a law and be able to discriminate based on their personal religious beliefs. This is a slippery slope.

A county clerk whose responsibility it is to issue marriage licenses must do so to gay couples whether she likes it or not. It is not up to her to say who can get married. What if she was an ethical vegetarian? Could she deny a hunting license because of her beliefs? What if she was a pacifist? Could she deny issuing a gun license to anyone one who met all of the legal requirements for gun ownership?

Had the pontiff made a statement while in the United States publicly opposing the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage law, I would have disagreed with him but would have not been nearly as disappointed as I am by his defense of Kim Davis actions on the basis of her having a human right to conscientious objection of a law that she feels is wrong on the basis of her religious beliefs. This is exactly why our founding fathers believed in a clear separation of church and state.

According to Kentucky law, as an elected official Davis can't be fired from the position for refusing to comply with the court order. The result is that she can go on discriminating, with the pope's tacit blessing, because of her religious beliefs. That is both unfair and unjust.