The Only Religion Question Reporters and Debate Moderators Should Ask Presidential Candidates (Kim Davis Edition)

UPDATE: Following this morning’s hearing, Kim Davis has been taken into custody by U.S. Marshals for contempt of court. 

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, not known for shying away from hot-button religious culture war battles, “visited by phone” with Rowan County, Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis yesterday, according to a statement issued by his campaign. “I let her know how proud I am of her for not abandoning her religious convictions and standing strong for religious liberty,” the former pastor, Arkansas governor, and now two-time presidential candidate said in a statement. Arguing that “the Supreme Court cannot and did not make a law,” but only a “ruling on a law,” Huckabee maintained that “Kim does not have the Constitutional authority to issue a marriage license to homosexual couples.”

Davis will be in federal court later this morning, for a hearing on whether she should be held in contempt of court. Translation: federal courts do indeed have the authority to decide whether Davis is obligated to issue those marriage licenses.

Huckabee’s mixed-up civics lesson, though, is a bit of a red herring. He portrays Davis as standing up for her religious liberty in the face of a court that in his view, lacks the authority to compel her to act. Because Davis is, in her own words, acting under “God’s authority,” the Supreme Court should be relegated, in Huckabee’s view, to an impotent, irrelevant bystander.

“No man,” Huckabee went on, “has the right to redefine the laws of nature or of nature’s God.” If a court does engage in such “redefining,” Huckabee concludes, it violates the religious liberty of those who believe “God’s law” (however they define that) is immutable and infallible.

Of course framing this stand-off as one about Davis’s religious liberty is great PR; it portrays her as the victim of an overzealous, anti-religion government, fitting right into a conservative frame about both the role of government and faith in the public square. But at its heart, though, this argument isn’t about what the Constitution, particularly the religion clauses, mean. It’s an argument about biblical supremacy over civil law. It’s an argument over who has “authority” or “jurisdiction” to decide matters relating to the United States citizenry.

To say that Huckabee or Davis seek to erase the separation of church and state misses the point. What they mean to say is not that the government should endorse a particular religion. They mean to say that the government should step aside for a particular religion.

While Huckabee may be the most ambitious of the presidential candidates on this issue, others are nonetheless coming to Davis’s defense. Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal, competing with Huckabee to be the second-tier presidential favorite among religious conservatives, issued more mild statements in support of Davis. Jindal told the Huffington Post that religious liberty “is an essential freedom and an essential right and I don’t think you give up this right by simply taking a job.” Cruz said on his Facebook page, “we must be vigilant to protect the free exercise of religion — a value enshrined in our Constitution. We should make it possible for believers, such as Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky, to hold government jobs without having to violate their religious beliefs.”

But by defending Davis, the candidates are not merely defending her “religious liberty;” they’re defending her underlying argument, that what she claims is God’s authority is superior to the Constitution, civil laws, and the Supreme Court’s rulings on those laws.

Religious freedom, of course, has long been seen as the hot 2016 culture war issue, so it’s not surprising to see some of the candidates line up to support Davis. Religious freedom is a new litmus test on the right; of course abortion is still there, but now religious liberty is the proxy for opposition to marriage equality.

But if you listen to what Davis is saying, her real argument is that God’s authority trumps that of the courts (a truly odd statement for someone who is employed by a court), not that her religious liberty is under siege.

Huckabee has set the standard, so let’s get the the heart of what the candidates mean when they support Kim Davis. It’s a perfect debate question because it’s not a religious litmus test such as quizzing candidates on favorite Bible verses, or asking them to describe what their faith has meant to them in their own lives. It’s also a question that cuts to the chase, without clouding an argument about authority with paeans to religious liberty.

Here’s the question: do you believe there are any circumstances under which God’s law should supersede civil law, whether legislative or judicial? If so, what are those circumstances?


  •' michaelmyers says:

    if only we could have debates in this country where questions like that are actually asked. instead of the reality show format we have now which the sole purpose is ratings. excellent article, though. you hit the nail on the head with this one.

  •' Skeptic says:

    Sarah–You would have to add, “and what do you think constitutes God’s law, which god, from what source. I gather–perhaps from this site–that there is a kurfluffle in Minneapolis over Somali cab drivers refusing to take passengers who are carrying alcohol or who have dogs with them. Really, if you want this God’s law business to go through as a religious liberty issue you will, as usual with these folks, have chaos if it is applied universally. Clearly, all Huckabee et al. want is to have their particular interpretation of Biblical law govern everyone.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    From a traditional religious point of view your question makes sense, but it might be problematic in a wider sense. It is not really looking for where God’s law supersedes civil law, but looking for where civil law is wrong and contradictory. Then you can just make up a religion to say the opposite. There are bad laws that need to be superseded somehow, like stand your ground, and gun rights in general. I guess that problem would lead to two opposing religions with two opposite laws of God. One favors use of guns, and the other wants to restrict guns. At that point, in America at least, the religion favoring gun use wins because they have more guns.

  •' cmbennett01 says:

    This is a question that won’t be asked, and if it were, the majority of the Republican candidates would not answer it. It is an idea that makes the overwhelming majority of Americans very uneasy, even the devoutly religious. They will not alienate the majority of their base to placate a minority. This is why Huck and his supporters will never more than a sideshow.

  •' j.martindale says:

    What in the hell is “God’s law”? The buybull is so full of contradictory nonsense, I challenge you to make a coherent rule book for the law. Is it an eye for an eye, or thou shalt not kill? And when do we engage in the religious wars to decide whose religion gets to make the decisions about what god wants?

  • Christian sharia is whatever the religious nut says it is..

  •' DKeane123 says:

    Judge just locked her up.

  •' Kiri the Unicorn says:

    “God’s law” is the shorthand phrase used by narrow-minded and unimaginative people who think all sex should be M/F only, ’cause that’s how reproduction works. Never mind that hetero couples engage in plenty of non-reproductive sodomy, or sometimes can’t have children at all.

  •' Gregory Peterson says:

    As near as I can tell, “God’s Law” means conservative white Evangelical privilege to nullify laws as they wish..

  •' j.martindale says:

    Oh, you mean homophobia.

  •' Uncle Reggie says:

    I say we populate the KY DMV with members of the muslim faith and find a passage somewhere in the Koran stating that racists cannot drive…..

  •' Alencon says:

    They can ask that question right after they ask whether the candidate supports the Separation of Church and State.

    The question “do you believe there are any circumstances under which God’s law should supersede civil law, whether legislative or judicial? If so, what are those circumstances?” assumes facts not in evidence. It assumes there is a God and, even worse, assumes a specific God.

    Even if one could demonstrate that a specific God exists there is the problem WHO decides what is that God’s law?

  •' Villabolo says:

    Would Kim Davis give a marriage license based on this Bible law?

    28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 New International Version

    If not, she’s being a hypocrite.

  •' Noah Germain (Tourette's Man) says:

    Finally! Keep the demented, arrogant Christian in jail until she apologizes. She’s not imitating Rosa Parks- she’s just selfish. Discrimination is never acceptable.

  •' 2up says:

    The way the question is phrased acknowledges the reality of a supernatural being which is an affront to non believers.. Better to ask it this way: do you believe there are any circumstances under which christian religious belief should supersede civil law, whether legislative or judicial? If so, what are those circumstances?

  •' not_guilty says:

    No, the question does not presuppose a God. The question inquires as to a political candidate’s belief about what he or she perceives to be God’s law and the relation of that belief system to civil law.

    Suppose Richard Nixon believed in the existence of God. Suppose, for sake of discussion, that Jimmy Carter, while running for president, did not. Does either belief make either the existence or non-existence of God more likely?

  •' not_guilty says:

    Who cares whether she apologizes? Just follow the law and issue the damn licenses.

  •' Josh says:

    It’s spelled BIBLE and if not for Jesus Christ the son of God there would be no law, and when the Judgement day comes you will know what in the HELL it means

  •' cranefly says:

    In other words, the question is “Do you believe in religious freedom or not?” By insisting that their “God’s law” entitles them to be oppressors with the power to enforce religion-based hierarchies and violate the human rights of their citizens at whim, Kim Davis and Mike Huckabee check the box that says “no.”

  •' red-diaper-baby 1942 says:

    I agree absolutely, except I would replace the verb “acknowledge” with “imply”. “Acknowledge” is a so-called factive verb, like “know” or “recognize”; such verbs imply that what is known or recognized or acknowledged is in fact, in the opinion of the speaker or writer, true.
    I would also leave out the word “christian” in the question; it should refer to any so-called “religious belief” at all.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That might just be wishful thinking. As the religion becomes more discredited, it believes more deeply in a judgment day when God lets everyone know the Christians were right about what they were saying and everyone else is wrong and going to hell. The more obvious it becomes that is questionable, the more deeply it is believed because that is how the religion keeps going.

  •' phatkhat says:

    Uh-huh. Right. Prove it. The more you think about it, the less sense your version makes. And there were laws LONG before Jesus of Nazareth’s purported career. There were laws LONG before OT law, for that matter. The Hebrews were not the first people to have a civilization.

  •' phatkhat says:

    It’s what she wanted, you know. Expanding her 15 minutes of fame – and ensuring martyrdom, a book deal, and probably a movie – maybe M. Landon, Jr. is already planning. No doubt there will be fundraisers, and when the pot is big enough, she can just retire.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “[D]o you believe there are any circumstances under which God’s law should
    supersede civil law, whether legislative or judicial? If so, what are those circumstances?” – Sarah P.

    While technically two questions, I would only add a single word, “your.”

    Do you believe there are any circumstances under which your god’s laws should supersede civil law, whether legislative or judicial? And if so, what are those circumstances?

    This puts it right back on their own beliefs, and not necessarily a particular religion or creed.

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    Exactly. I want to know whose God and which of his putative laws they want to enforce. Personally, I love lobster and shrimp so if they want to ban those based on Leviticus 11:12, I’m really going to have a problem with it.

  •' Brewmeister says:

    I hate to break this to ya Josh, but there’s mounting evidence that Jesus may not have even existed. I was surprised at first, but it seems compelling. Who could’ve guessed that Christianity was one big con job (I didn’t expect it).

  •' Alencon says:

    If the question had said “what you perceive to be God’s law” then I would agree with you but it doesn’t. It simply says “God’s law.” Therefore it presupposes the existence of “God’s law” and therefore it presupposes the existence of God.

  •' not_guilty says:

    No, the question asks what is the candidate’s belief — without regard to whether that belief is grounded in fact or not. Rules of grammar will help to illustrate.

    “You” (the candidate) is the subject of the sentence. “Believe” is the verb. The phrase “under which God’s law . . .” modifies “circumstances”.

    I graduated high school 42 years ago. Do schools still teach diagramming sentences?

  •' BrahmanIsAll says:

    To pretend that god has laws, is why western religion is losing many to secularism. And thats a good thing, because ignorant closed minded zealotry is just a step from the nut-house. Jimmy Carter is one of the few Real religious people I support, him and the new pope. They do not dehumanize others because of skin color or gender preferences. They are truly religious and act like a supposed JC would.

    This women has a job to do that she was hired to do, but lunacy and a skewed narrow perception make her a crack-pot.

  •' BrahmanIsAll says:

    well done.

  •' BrahmanIsAll says:

    oh, the judgement day!! crap like this is the only hold western religion has on you weak-mind hypocrites. you guys are about as close to JC, as a rock. dogs are much closer.

    there is no hell, that fear mongering is for tiny tiny minded people. keep threatening, as people move fast from your ilks zealotry.

    you are living in hell, and don’t know it, and most all of us feel a certain sense of empathy for brainwashed little hypocrites.

  •' Alencon says:

    Grammar and syntax, as Lewis Carroll demonstrated, can be correct even if the contents are gibberish.

    I’m impressed that you remember how to diagram a sentence. It’s also irrelevant because I’m referring to content and not structure.

    The question only makes logical sense if (a) the person asking the question assumes “God’s law” and therefore “God” exists or (b) the person asking the question assumes the person being asked assumes “God’s law” and therefore “God” exists.

    The question makes absolutely no sense if no one assumes “God’s law” and therefore “God” exists. Note the word “assumes.” It is indeed irrelevant whether the belief is grounded in fact or not. I’m talking about an assumption and not a fact.

    However you cannot tell for certain simply from the grammar of the question. It can be interpreted either way.

    If you want to say that you interpret it as (b) and since the candidates have already demonstrated they assume “God’s law” and therefore “God” exists so those facts are in evidence, I’ll accept that.

  •' not_guilty says:

    Not necessarily. The question at issue is “do you believe there are any circumstances under which God’s law should supersede civil law, whether legislative or judicial? If so, what are those circumstances?”

    A candidate who does not believe in the existence of God would answer truthfully that he believes there are no such circumstances. A candidate who does believe in God and in the existence of divine law, but believes that secular law should always predominate in the event of a conflict would also truthfully answer he believes there are no such circumstances.

  •' ThatBard says:

    o.O The Hindus were doing law a coupla thousand years before YHWH, as were the Chinese (they even have written records and histories of that law dating back a thousand years before the Babylonian Exile). The Sumerians were doing (and writing down) law around the same time, and in Mesopotamia: that’s where Abraham came *from*. And we know from Exodus that the Egyptians had laws, even we didn’t also know this from coffin texts and other data. Going back nearly *five* thousand years before Christ, and three thousand before the Exile.

    Regardless of one’s own affiliation, the claim that law begins with YHWH is simply *wrong*, chronologically speaking.

  •' ThatBard says:

    Which they did indeed start doing, the same day she went to jail. I saw an article somewhere, but it’s early here and I don’t recall where 😉

  •' ThatBard says:

    Fortunately, there isn’t one. Even the famous restriction on women driving in Saudi & Iran is not from the Qu’ran. It’s Hadith law, equivalent to Jewish Talmudic law or RC Canon law, rather than revealed.

    In fact, very nearly *everything* we don’t like about fundamentalist Islam is drawn from the multi-century war to spread the cultural values of a specific time-period in the tribal war in Arabia over more and more territory and people; rather like when the peoples of Christendom (what we now call Europe, but didn’t then) went out and set fire to any bits of the world that wouldn’t convert.

    None of this is about the religious texts, or we wouldn’t have moderate and liberal Christians (or Jews, or Muslims). *All* of it is about trying to mandate global acceptance of the narrow social mores and practices of one specific ‘golden age’ in the history of one specific people group. This is just as if not more true of George W. Bush killing millions by tying healthcare in Africa to a no-contraception rule (which is literally murder in a place where AIDS is epidemic) as it is of militant patriarchal Arabs blowing up 2000 year old temples that weren’t built by their guys in the first place.

  •' niteshade says:

    Because there’s nothing Jesus loves more then kick’n sinners down the stairs to hell. I heard slow roasting homosexuals and hypocritical court clerk’s is his close second.

  • Jesus isn’t in the Bible. He’s in the New Testament.

    Or are you just assuming that everyone you’re talking to is a Christian?

  • What a wretched, miserable, awful woman.

    Best advertisement for atheism I’ve ever see.

  •' Stan Klein says:

    Isn’t there a place for conscientious objectors? Rather than being put in prison couldn’t Kim Davis be given some task of say helping feed the homeless for say 20 hours for each marriage certificate she doesn’t sign.

  •' westernwynde says:

    If something – such as “the definition of marriage” can be changed, it’s obviously not a law made by anyone’s god.

  •' miteypen says:

    If Huckabee and his ilk really believed in religious liberty, they would have to accept that everyone has the right to act on their religious beliefs EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT CHRISTIAN. Somehow I don’t think that’s what they mean by religious freedom.

  • I love this “religion is a right” you don’t give up by taking a job. Every reporter should be immediately trained to ask, “So you’re against not hiring women if they refuse to give up their head scarf?” Hell, everyone should ask that question. And related ones: Does that mean people whose religion allows abortion shouldn’t have to give up the right to health insurance?

  • Yeah, among anything else they happen to disapprove of and can find a way to twist interpretation to their bias.

  • Not to mention that the Jews made a deal with what was probably one of many gods at the time, and there’s some internal and lots of external evidence for that in Torah. So it’s one God’s law — and regardless what Christians believe, that one’s not theirs, since Paul pulled the plug on it for non-Gentiles.

  • Living in the Twin Cities, i was surprised (but not very) to read that. So there’s a good question to ask Huckabee and the other wannabees…. since you have said people shouldn’t have to leave their religion behind to get a job, should taxi drivers be able to refuse customers on the basis of what they believe?

  •' Susan S. Poirier says:

    Kim Davis is a civil servant and if she refuses to do her job FIRE HER without a pension. I don’t understand why there is any discussion at all.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    She is an elected official, so it is up to the voters of … Kentucky.

  •' Laura Schall says:

    Not so much ….just kidding . They do learn basic structure just not called diagramming. I was Roberts Rules for English.

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