One Person, One Nullification

Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, addresses the opening session of the 82nd Texas Legislature, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Fascinating, duplicitous development in Texas.

The state’s Attorney General is inviting, really encouraging, public officials to defy last week’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage for same sex couples across the United States. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is telling country clerks they may refuse to issue marriage licenses if they believe same sex marriages violate their religious beliefs.

We’ve seen hints of this perverse theory recently. But it’s worth stepping back and walking through just what a perversion of the concept of religious liberty this really is. Religious liberty is not only the simple freedom to believe and worship following the dictates of your conscience. Particularly in its American form it has been an application of special deference, a limit on the state’s and society’s ability to intrude into an individual’s private sphere – even in ways which might be permitted if religion and conscience weren’t involved.

Here though we have the idea that an individual can change the application of public law based on whatever they call their religious belief. People might be offended by seeing two people of different races marry. And they wouldn’t be compelled to marry a person of a different race. But by this theory a county clerk could effectively ban interracial marriage in their county based on ‘religious liberty’. The simple fact is this: religious liberty is a shield against the exactions of public law. This new Frankenstein religious liberty is a free right to change public law for everyone else. It really is nullification, with all its rotten history of racism and bigotry remodeled to fit the fashion of the day.

Aside from the silliness in theory one can only imagine the perversity in practice, with people running for office based on their ability to ignore or defy certain laws based on their religious beliefs.

There is no religious liberty to deny rights to other people. Your religion does not obligate you take a job in which you swear to enforce public law. There’s no fundamental right to be a county clerk.

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