Three members of the Wyoming Supreme Court have bowed to the nation’s politically correct climate and have issued a public censure to a lower-court judge for declaring her Christian beliefs, an action protected by the state constitution.
The 3-2 decision by the state court majority of E. James Burke, William Hill and Kate Fox, however, was “vigorously” opposed by two justices, Michael Davis and Keith Kautz.
The dissenting judges pointed out that Judge Ruth Neely, a Lutheran, broke no law and violated no part of the judicial code of ethics by stating she personally could not perform a same-sex “wedding.”
David and Kautz are warning that the decision creates a new “religious test” for those who would be judges.
“The effect of the majority opinion is concerning for the people of Wyoming. It likely results in a religious test for who may be a judge, at any level, in our state.”
The judges said there is “only a single statute granting judges and others the authority to perform marriages in Wyoming.”
“Apparently from that statutory authority the majority concludes that a circuit court magistrate who is willing to perform any marriages must perform all same sex marriages when requested,” they wrote.
“To avoid ethics charges like these, judges then must pass a religious test indicating that they have no religious beliefs that would prevent them from performing same sex marriages, or be precluded from performing any marriages.
The judges said the record points out, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, confirms, that “a significant portion of our country holds sincere religious views against same sex marriage.”
“The majority position likely would exclude a significant portion of our citizens from the judiciary, without any compelling reason to do so.”
Further, a sitting judge’s “exercise” of her religious beliefs can be restricted, the dissent pointed out, if someone without evidence claims to question her impartiality.
“In our pluralistic society, the law should not be used to coerce ideological conformity. Rather, on deeply contested moral issues, the law should ‘create a society in which both sides can live their own values.’”
The dissent argued the Obergefell majority intended to remove the “outcast” label from same-sex couples, but now that label has been applied to Neely.
That issue has erupted in multiple locations across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court created same-sex “marriage.” Multiple court cases have developed as homosexual activists identify and target those who do not support their agenda, largely Christians seeking to uphold the principles of their faith.
In the Wyoming case, the majority censured Neely and ordered that she either perform all wedding ceremony requests presented to her or none.
The dissenting opinion, however, pointed out that Neely never has been accused of prejudice or bias and never before had a complaint brought against her. In fact, she was not even requested to do a same-sex “wedding.”
The two justices explained that Neely had been, following the creation of same-sex “marriage,” set up by a local reporter, Ned Donovan, who “asked if [she] was excited to be able to start performing same-sex marriages.”
Neely said her own Christian faith wouldn’t allow that.
“Donovan called Judge Neely back a few hours later and offered to not publish a story if Judge Neely would state a willingness to perform same-sex marriages,” the dissent explained. “Judge Neeley declined, and on December 9, 2014, a local newspaper published an article written by Mr. Donovan which included Judge Neely’s statements.”
But those statements were not prohibited by law or ethics rules, the dissent pointed out.
“[The law] established that Wyoming officials (which would include judges) may not deny marriage to same sex couples on the basis of any state law, policy or practice. It did not establish any law beyond this specific prohibition. It is clear from the undisputed facts that Judge Neely did not deny marriage to anyone, nor did she say she would deny marriage to anyone. Rather, she said that because of her religious beliefs, she would not perform same sex marriages herself, but would assist couples in finding a judge who would.”
The dissent continued: “Guzzo [a court precedent] did not involve statements about religious beliefs in any manner. It did not involve any issue of who must perform same sex marriages. Guzzo certainly did not establish any requirement that any particular judge or level of judges in Wyoming must perform every marriage when requested. Similarly, it did not establish any right of same sex couples to insist that they be married by a particular judge.
“The majority’s decision implies that the law requires Judge Neely to perform weddings and that Judge Neely did not ‘follow’ the law when she made the reported statements. Indeed, a key element in the majority opinion is an assumption that to follow the law Judge Neely was required to perform all marriages, or at least all same sex marriages, when requested. Neither Guzzo nor Obergefell [the U.S. Supreme Court decision creating same-sex marriage] created such a requirement. Wyoming law does not contain such a requirement.”
State law specifically states officials “may” perform such ceremonies, the dissent said.
Not only was there no evidence Neeley ever denied a same-sex couple marriage, there is no evidence she ever said she would, the dissent said.
“To the contrary, she clearly stated that she recognized their right to be married.”
The majority’s claim that Neely did not follow the law, therefore, is unsupported by the facts, the dissent argued.
And as for ethics rules, there is “an important requirement that judges act in a manner which promotes public confidence in the judiciary.”
“The record in this case indicates that Judge Neely did just that – she promoted confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom, through Senior Counsel Jim Campbell, noted the court’s decision to keep Neely on the bench.
“By affirming that Judge Neely may remain in her judicial positions, the Wyoming Supreme Court has recognized that her honorable beliefs about marriage do not disqualify her from serving her community as a judge, which she has done with distinction for more than two decades,” he said.
“The court rejected the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics’ recommendation that Judge Neely be removed from office for expressing her belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. The court also stated that removing her would have ‘unnecessarily circumscribe[d] protected expression’ and thus violated the Constitution. Judge Neely looks forward to serving her community for many years to come.”
The comments did not address whether the state Supreme Court majority had undermined public confidence in the judiciary by its re-interpretation of state law and apparent creation of a “religious test.”
“The majority opinion hinges on its conclusions that Judge Neely’s statements would cause reasonable persons to question her impartiality, and would conclude she exhibited bias and prejudice toward homosexuals. Those are not conclusions that would be reached by a reasonable person apprised of the appropriate facts,” the dissent said.
In fact, the two dissenting judges noted, Wyoming’s constitution provides even more protection for religious faith than does the U.S. Constitution.
It states: “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without discrimination or preference shall be forever guaranteed in this state, and no person shall be rendered incompetent to hold any office of trust or profit, or to serve as a witness or juror, because of his opinion on any matter of religious belief whatever; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state.”
The dissenting opinion continued: “The majority opinion states that we must choose between public confidence in the judiciary … and recognizing constitutionally guaranteed rights to free exercise of religion and speech. Analysis … however, shows that Wyoming, the Equality State, can equally recognize each of these individual rights.
“It is not appropriate, nor necessary, to diminish religious liberty or free speech in Wyoming to accomplish protect of individual rights connected with same sex marriage.”
WND reported when the case was filed by the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct against Neely, a municipal judge in the small town of Pinedale as well as a part-time circuit court magistrate.
The state commission claimed “by merely communicating her religious beliefs about marriage and her inability to serve as a celebrant for same-sex marriage, Judge Neely failed to follow the law and manifested bias and prejudice.”
The commission’s website lists current members as Priscilla Dillon of Sheridan, Barbara Dilts of Cheyenne, Ray Elser of Jackson, Mary Flitner of Greybull, Donna Heinz of Torrington, Leslie Petersen of Wilson, Jay Gilbertz of Sheridan, Melvin Orchard III of Jackson, Scott Ortiz of Casper, Wendy Bartlett of Gilette, Wade Waldrip of Rawlins and Norman Young of Lander.
WND previously has published a Big List of cases in which government rulings have removed religious rights from Christians.
Missouri State University, for example, dismissed a student from a counseling program for expressing opposition to counseling same-sex duos.
In Texas, David and Edie Delmore, who own a bakery, were approached by Ben Valencia and Luis Marmolejo about a cake for a “gay wedding.” They declined, referring the potential customers to other bakers. Subsequently, they claim their home has been vandalized and their son has been threatened with rape by a broken beer bottle.
One business even was attacked for answering a hypothetical question on the issue.
Family owned Memories Pizza in Indiana came into the cross-hairs of homosexuals when an owner was interviewed by a local TV station in the aftermath of the adoption of the state’s religious freedom law. Responding to a reporter’s question, the owner said that while her restaurant serves “gays,” her Christian faith wouldn’t allow her to cater a “gay wedding.” The restaurant immediately became a focal point of outrage toward the law, with threats of death and destruction, causing the owners to shut down their business.