M D Nalapat
- A country clerk in Kentucky, Kimberly Davis, has become the darling of several religious fundamentalist groups in the US after she went to jail rather than sign a certificate permitting a couple of the same gender to legally marry. This was despite the fact that the US Supreme Court, despite its conservative majority, ruled that such unions are legal in the US and hence cannot be blocked by state authorities. Calling herself an “Apostolic Christian”, Ms Davis said that the tenets of her faith made it impossible for her to carry out the Supreme Court’s verdict. After a few days and much television coverage later, she was released into the presence of perennial Republican Party Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who believes that Charles Darwin was deranged in suggesting that human beings evolved over time rather than got created as they are in a period not specified by Huckabee or the authorities he relies on. There is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the divine creation of human beings, for even in the latter case,there will be changes over time caused by differences in climate and other factors.
However, to US religious fundamentalists, the world is binary, either black or white, either true or false. And now we have the spectacle of a senior politician seeking a job that seeks to uphold the laws of the land actually encouraging an individual who has broken the law because of her personal faith. What would happen in the US if a citizen were to say that he or she belongs to a faith where adultery deserves to be punished, not with a wink as in that country, but by stoning the offender to death?
Each religion has a set of beliefs that in several respects are different from those of others. For example, in the Jain faith, monks move around without any clothes, so deep is their commitment to austerity. Many Jains carry the doctrine of non-violence to the point where they will not even kill mosquitoes entering their residence, as the taking of life is banned by a faith whose practitioners are among the most forward looking and the most successful in India. Would Mike Huckabee be as indulgent as he has been to Ms Davis towards an individual who refused to disinfect a hospital ward because the process would involve the killing of myriads of insects, something prohibited by his or her faith? More to the point, would that person get the avalanche of favourable coverage in the media that Kim Davis got, or the kid glove treatment of the courts and the penal system, which let her free within days of her openly defying the law of the land despite being under oath as a public official to enforce it?
The fact is that Kim Davis has set a precedent that in times to come can create severe problems for the US and other countries where others may seek to follow her example of basing even her official decisions on faith rather than on the laws and the constitution. If she has any objection to obeying a policy deemed to be legal by the Supreme Court, the correct path would have been for her to resign rather than set an example of fundamentalist disobedience of the law in a secular country. Just as “Apostolic Christians” (whatever the term implies) have clearly defined views on matters in which laws take a different stance, so may those of other faiths. In India, those belonging to the Muslim faith are legally entitled to marry up to four wives at a time, while divorce is simply a matter of repeating the word “talaq” three times, as quickly as may be desired. However, such liberty is not present in the US. Now, following the Kim Davis precedent, those men wishing to have four wives at a time can say that such is their faith,a nd it is their religious obligation to go by its tenets.
The Republican Party in the US seems to be in thrall to its fringe, which is why (as forecast several weeks again these columns), Donald Trump seems poised to become that party’s candidate in the 2016 US Presidential elections, overshadowing the aseptic Jeb Bush, who has the added disadvantage of being the elder brother of the US President who thought Al Qaeda was led by Saddam Hussein and allowed the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regroup in his obsession with taking out the toothless (to US interests) Iraqi dictator. Taking out those who pose zero threat to security interests seems to be a pastime of NATO, for Iraq was repeated in Libya, while in Syria, although the Assads (Hafez and Bashar) have kept the peace on the Golan, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are trying to remove Bashar Assad from office and replace him with a Libya-style cocktail of warlords and religious fanatics. By placing Church over State, Canon Law over Constitutional Law, politicians such as Mike Huckabee (and he is scarcely alone, for most Republican Presidential candidates have endorsed the disobedience of Kim Davis to the law) are putting in place a precedent which will come in handy not just for “apostolic Christians” (whatever this means) but for those with similarly deep-rooted theological views who practice a different faith.
A Hindu official can refuse to clear a shipment of beef for export, and a Muslim do likewise with pork,as both are repugnant to their respective faiths. Where will such disobedience stop, for surely it would be illogical to claim that only “apostolic Christians” have the right to go by the tenets of their faith despite being in the service of a secular state. The Kim Davis precedent is worrying for those opposed to the competitive religious fundamentalism which seems to be spreading across the globe. Certainly there will be others on that same lawless path, and not all from the Kentucky clerk’s faith. Such exercises in action on the basis of theology can do serious damage to the secular foundations of the US at a time when it is in danger of hosting myriad cells of silent fanatics preparing to strike through techniques honed in Sri Lanka and Iraq to perfection.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.