Senate, Recuse Thyself

When the 'rule of law' has to bow to the 'sincerely held religious belief'
N.C. Senate

“I will not stand idly by and watch the demands of a few insist that a magistrate perform a wedding that he or she strongly believes to be immoral. I will not stand by and watch that happen.”—N.C. Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson County, sponsor of Senate Bill 2

It’s pretty simple, really. When people occupy public office, their actions on the job are for the benefit of the public. Personal conviction shouldn’t come into play. A trial judge can decline to impose the death penalty based on evidence but not personal antipathy for state-sanctioned killing. The principle applies to all of us: There’s no “sincerely held religious belief” exemption from jury duty or payment of taxes, either.

Look, I understand what’s really behind Senate Bill 2, the magistrate-recusal-from- gay-marriage bill that passed the N.C. Senate this afternoon. It’s a gesture, a finger in the leaky seawall of state-enforced Traditional Morality™ that the courts surely will rule unconstitutional.

But we ought to recognize just how ridiculous this thing is, this piece of nonsense passed by people we’ve elected. Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius, a Republican, mercifully seems to understand that. Tarte said on the floor that public officials need to uphold even laws they disagree with—a bedrock idea you wouldn’t think needs to be expressed in a chamber of a public body in a United State.

But apparently it does. This is not the way it’s supposed to work. When you elevate individual religious belief to a place above the law, you forfeit your right to talk high and mighty about the rule of law. And the Senate’s urgency in pushing this through, in a session that so far has accomplished damn near nothing, provides another reminder—like we needed one—of just how fraudulent these people are.