Jason Hansman, Staff Writer
We are now a couple of months removed from one of the more public examples of a public servant taking a subjective interpretation of the law. The actions of a small county clerk in Kentucky became a lightning rod for those taking varied sides of a national conversation about same-sex marriage, and brought into focus something far more important to the fabric of our republic: the role of government officials.
We saw everything from presidential candidates to ordinary Americans come out to support Kim Davis and her act of disobedience. Many came to see her grinding the wheels of government to a halt as both an exercise of her publicly held position and as an act of responsibility as a Christian. Others, in contrast, found her actions to be a willful act of defiance of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country.
Public servants are often asked to do things that they don’t think are right or even fair. For over eight years, I served in the Army Reserves, and can recall more than one instance in which I was asked to do things that I not only didn’t like, but that I also found less than morally desirable. At the end of the day, I carried out what was expected of me and I would expect nothing less from a Kentucky county clerk. Though the stakes might be higher in the military and the punishment certainly stiffer, Davis, like myself, swore a public oath in service of this country.
And yet, in the case of Davis, the consequences of not upholding her duty were negligible. This sets a very bad example and precedent. Our nation depends on civil servants to carry out the law as it is presented to them – not to interpret it in a way of their choosing. Civil servants should not have the option of deciding which rules they want to follow and which rules they want to break. If they are morally opposed to the law, they have really only one recourse: to resign.
There is a sacred trust that comes with being a civil servant. By defying that sacred trust, they make our republic weaker. There’s no greater honor than to serve your country, whether that be as a county clerk or in the military, but it carries a huge responsibility. Violating that responsibility should carry consequences, and those consequences should certainly entail more than a few nights in jail.
Jason Hansman is a Masters in Public Administration candidate at NYU Wagner. He has spent over six years in the non-profit sector working on program management and collaboration efforts between nonprofits in the veteran’s space. Previously, from 2000 – 2009, Jason served in the United States Army where he did a combat tour in Iraq in 2004 working on local Iraqi reconstruction efforts. All views are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other entity. You can find his other views on Twitter at @jasonhansman.