Opinion: Why 'God's authority' can't keep Kim Davis out of jail

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, Sept. 5. Labor Day is in two days, so here's a pleasant reminder to those of you whose employers observe the holiday: Remember not to show up to work on Monday. Here's a look back at the week in Opinion.

Kim Davis might have God in her corner, but that isn't enough.

The jailed Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk has refused to issue marriage licenses to couples, citing the Christian Supreme Being's (and by extension, her) opposition to same-sex unions. Davis says "God's authority" usurps a federal court order to do her job.

It's a conflict many opponents of same-sex marriage foresaw before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed. The Times editorial board weighs in against Davis:

Davis, a devout Christian, is a poignant figure for many Americans. But her understanding of her public responsibilities is impaired to the point of absurdity. For example, she suggests that because she swore to uphold the law "so help me God," she is bound not only by the law and the Constitution but also by the moral law of God, natural law and her own "sincerely held religious beliefs and convictions."

Those convictions tell her that she must not issue a marriage license "which conflicts with God's definition of marriage" — an assertion that confuses civil marriage, in which Davis' office plays a role, with marriage in the sight of God. The question is whether that misunderstanding qualifies as a religious belief that must be accommodated. Her lawyers have suggested several such accommodations, including deputizing clerks in other counties to issue licenses in Rowan County, modifying the marriage license form to remove the clerk's name and distributing licenses on a statewide basis....

In a statement released by her lawyers, Davis said that for her, issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple was a "Heaven or Hell decision." But if an elected official believes that complying with the law and the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court threatens her with eternal damnation, her choice is obvious: Give up the office.

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Readers similarly show little sympathy for Davis. The two letters printed in the paper and posted online Wednesday reflect the preponderance of the few dozen total that have been submitted to The Times. One reader notes that "nobody's making her stay against her will," and another speculates what would happen if Davis' religious proclivities included veganism and therefore prevented her from issuing hunting licenses. L.A. Times

The ascendancy of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is a sign that the two big parties are dying, writes Howard Dean's 2004 campaign manager Joe Trippi. Instead of enthusiastically embracing the label of "Democrat" or "Republican," the insurgent candidates are developing brands of their own and having great success doing it. About Hillary Rodham Clinton's main rival, Trippi writes: "Brand Sanders is rolling. The Democratic Party couldn't stop his money or kill the energy in his campaign if it tried; and if it did try, it would only help Sanders raise more money and generate even more energy." L.A. Times

The editorial board cautiously endorses the Iran nuclear deal, and readers are split on it. An editorial Sunday says the weaknesses of the agreement -- including lifting embargoes on the importation of conventional weapons and ballistic missiles and inspection timelines that could give Iran time to cover up evidence of violations -- are "significant," but that the alternatives to implementing the deal are far worse. In letters published Thursday, readers share reservations similar to the editorial board's, but they're split on whether the deal should be scuttled.

California is curtailing solitary confinement in prisons, and editorial boards on two coasts reacted positively. The Los Angeles Times says the new rules on the prolonged isolation of prisoners are part of a positive trend lately focusing on the mental health of inmates, and the New York Times calls California's action "a big shove in the right direction" for a solitary confinement system that is the "largest, most indiscriminate and most brutal in the country."

More mobility, more problems? That's the conclusion of New York City's former traffic commissioner, who writes that congestion on our streets and highways is a sign of a healthy, vibrant economy. He says L.A. transportation planners are right to try to slow down traffic as part of the city's new mobility plan. L.A. Times

Reader thoughts on birthright citizenship: Last week's newsletter excerpted at length a Times editorial that called the Donald Trump-fueled backlash against jus soli nationality "shameful." Many newsletter subscribers wrote back to say the editorial board missed the point of those who agree with Trump and other Republican presidential candidates. Here are some of their responses.

Rochelle Tetrault writes that birthright citizenship has been abused:

I do not think the Constitution writers knew that Asians, Mexicans, Canadians, Europeans and others would take a "gift" and turn it into a business. You are wrong to support the right of everyone in the world to fly into the U.S. and never contribute but take advantage of our country's Constitution. It has to be fixed, and you apparently did not think this through. 

A reader identifying himself as "Frank K" says birthright citizenship should be more narrowly applied:

I agree with what you are saying, but with a little misgiving regarding birthright, or as Trump calls them, "anchor babies."  When the Constitution was written, this country was looking for immigrants, and while we still welcome them if they come in legally, or in many cases, illegally, there are those who take advantage of our birthright policy intentionally just like many other immigrants who game our welfare system. We do need to fix our immigration policy and perhaps give birthright only to those whose parents came here legally.

Share your thoughts or feedback: Email As always, thanks for reading.

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