In Wyoming, judges can no longer speak about legal hypotheticals, or at least if he or she happens to reach a hypothetical conclusion that strays from the Left’s strictly-enforced cultural orthodoxy. Accordingly, judges have no right of conscience, and their faith can play no role in the carrying out of their duties – or even apparently when they’re not engaged in any judicial duties at all.
This week, the Wyoming Supreme Court decided to publicly censure Judge Ruth Neely, a municipal judge in the small town of Pinedale, WY, for a comment she made back in 2014 in response to a reporter that she wouldn’t preside over same-sex “marriages” as a magistrate because doing so would cause her to violate her religious beliefs. On that basis, formal charges for ethics violations were brought against her, culminating in Tuesday's decision by the state’s Supreme Court.
According to the 3-2 majority decision, "This case is not about imposing a religious test on judges." (Gee, could have fooled me. Glad you made that clear.) "Rather,” the Court said, “it is about maintaining the public's faith in an independent and impartial judiciary that conducts its judicial functions according to the rule of law, independent of outside influences, including religion, and without regard to whether a law is popular or unpopular." (emphasis added)
That sounds reasonable enough on its face. After all, judges exist to apply the law impartially, as written. But what’s particularly troubling about this case is that when Judge Neely made her comments, no same-sex couple had ever asked her to perform a marriage ceremony for them. In fact, same-sex marriage was not even legal in Wyoming at that time! The U.S. Supreme Court did not impose the concept of “same-sex marriage” on all 50 states until June of 2015. This was a pure hypothetical, which wasn’t even legally possible at the time of her comment.
Furthermore, "Wyoming law does not require any judge or magistrate to perform any particular marriage, and couples seeking to be married have no right to insist on a particular official as the officiant of their wedding," Justice Keith Kautz wrote in the dissent. So even if same-sex “marriage” had been legal, Judge Neely was under no obligation to solemnize any particular marriages. In other words, no judge could be compelled to perform a wedding ceremony - for any reason or no reason at all. Well there you have it. End of story, right??? Wrong.
So much for the “rule of law” – the Court’s insidious justification for silencing a conscientious judge. Judge Neely’s only error was failing to realize that she should never count on the law to stand in the way of the cultural Marxist agenda (within which the “LGBT” agenda subsists). (See Chief Justice Robert’s famous last words in his Obergefell v. Hodges dissent: “[The Constitution] had nothing to do with it.”) See, when you’re a judge, you’re supposed to look past the law any time it dictates or permits a result inconsistent with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy, which Judge Neely neglected to do. That’ll teach her.
But perhaps what is most frustrating about the Court’s statement is that it misrepresents the nature of “religion” and thereby dismisses its legitimate place in civil society, including in the lives of civil servants. Thankfully, one of Virginia’s own, Thomas Jefferson, had the foresight to articulate its meaning and significance, and his words stand as a pillar of freedom in Virginia’s Bill of Rights to this day:
Bill of Rights - Article 1, Section 16. “That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (emphasis added)
Well said, Mr. Jefferson. I shudder to think where we might otherwise be today without your wise words. Judge Neely, you're welcome in the Commonwealth anytime. And don't worry - you won't have to check your conscience at the border when you come.