Religious Liberty of State Officials Infringed Upon, NC Senate President Promises Action
By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
October 24, 2014
According to USA Today, a judge in Swain County, Magistrate Judge Gilbert Breedlove, resigned his position on Monday because performing a same-sex marriage was against his Christian convictions.
Breedlove told the paper it was his only option. “We were directed we had to perform the marriages, and that was just something I couldn’t do because of my religious beliefs,” he said.
Breedlove has been serving as a bivocational pastor in the Bryson City area. In addition to serving as a magistrate, he previously was a deputy sheriff and a Bible translator for the Choctaw Indians. He says his family and community, which is largely made up of conservative Christians, is supportive of his decision.
The Greensboro News and Record reported that support was also what John Kallam Jr. received on Tuesday. More than 500 Rockingham County residents showed up at the County Court House bearing signs that protested the infringement of his religious liberties.
Last week, Kallam sent a resignation letter to Judge Fred Wilkins saying he could no longer serve as a magistrate because of its new requirement to perform same-sex nuptials.
“When I took my oath of office, I understood that I would be required to perform weddings and have done so throughout my tenure. I did not, however, take that oath with any understanding that I would be required to marry same-sex couples. It is my personal belief and a position of my Christian faith that doing so would desecrate a holy institution established by God himself.”
Magistrates with religious objections have also refused to perform homosexual weddings in Pasquotank and Alamance Counties and more are expected to resign in other places.
At the rally, Tuesday, Senate President Pro-Tempore, Phil Berger, said Kallam was a constituent, and he was getting involved in his case because the man was losing his job over his religious beliefs. Berger told the crowd, “Here in Rockingham County, forcing Magistrate Kallam to give up his religious liberties to save his job is just wrong.”
According to the Raleigh News and Observer, Berger added: “The court’s expansion of the freedoms of some should not violate the well-recognized constitutional rights of others…Complying with the new marriage law imposed by the courts should not require our state employees to compromise their core beliefs and First Amendment rights in order to protect their livelihoods.”
Last week, Judge William Osteen in Greensboro granted Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis standing to intervene in two cases against North Carolina’s marriage protection amendment. The two legislative leaders plan to file an appeal in the cases that knocked down the state’s amendment as unconstitutional.
Berger promised at the rally he would also introduce legislation in the General Assembly to protect the jobs of magistrates, register of deeds and their employees who for religious reasons feel they cannot officiate at a same-sex wedding.
On Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, in a blog post, argued that the directive for magistrates to perform same-sex ceremonies despite “their personal moral and religious objections,” could ultimately lead to a constitutional showdown. He said the battle would be between state and federal courts as to which, outside of the Supreme Court of the United States, has the legal authority to rule on North Carolina’s marriage amendment.
Forest contends that only one magistrate would be necessary to contest the guidance memo provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts on the grounds it violates his or her religious beliefs. He argues that both the North Carolina and United States Constitutions protect religious liberty rights. The directive, he says, compels a state official “to contravene the North Carolina Constitution by performing a ceremony that is not recognized by law, and is in fact, prohibited by the marriage amendment.”
“You may wonder how that is possible after Judge Cogburn’s ruling purporting to strike down our amendment,” says Forest. “That is one of the beauties of federalism. As succinctly stated by North Carolina’s Supreme Court in the case of State v. McDowell: ‘A state court should exercise and apply its own independent judgment, treating, of course, decisions of the United States Supreme Court as binding and according to decisions of lower federal courts such persuasiveness as these decisions might reasonably command.’ North Carolina case law is clear. Decisions of the Fourth Circuit and Federal District Courts, while persuasive, are not binding on state courts,” Forest maintains.
The Lieutenant Governor goes on to claim that should a case involving a magistrate reach the North Carolina Supreme Court, “a vote by our honorable justices exercising their own independent judgment to uphold the amendment overwhelmingly approved by the people would set up the real possibility that the United States Supreme Court would hear arguments, having a split on the issue between a state court and the Fourth Circuit.”
Forest believes such a scenario is a “real possibility” and supporters of traditional marriage should not lose heart that the voice of the people on traditional marriage will be heard.
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said, “The more people see the way same-sex marriage breaches such fundamental rights as religious liberty, the less support we will see for it. We must never give up on this fight to protect and preserve God’s first institution – marriage. Judicial tyrants, sinful minds and deviates have corrupted it. I still hold out hope that we may see the pendulum swing back sooner rather than later.”