Saturday, September 5, 2015

Kim Davis: Rosa Parks--Or The Bus Driver?

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." That truism (and it is true) hovers over discussions of terrorism like a malevolent specter. It raises the ghost of hypocrisy any time someone uses the T-word to impugn a group engaged in non-standard warfare. Terrorism experts, however, have had some thoughts on how to navigate that distinction. Here I cite the excellent Thinking Like A Terrorist by ex-FBI terror expert Mike German.

In his formulation whether someone is a terrorist or a freedom fighter depends on who they are fighting--not how (at least in general: it doesn't excuse any excess). He rates the "who" on a scale of fascism based on Umberto Eco's Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Brown Shirt. These markers are canny (one of the government dimensions German looks at is the ruling power's treatment of women) because they are heuristic in nature--they give directional guidance but are not absolute.

This gives the user a framework with which to evaluate a given case without having to provide bright-line answers that can be litigated indefinitely. This, of course, brings us to Kim Davis--the KY clerk who has been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gays.

Kim Davis: Rosa Parks--or The Bus Driver?

Right now Davis is a martyr to several sections of the right. On a scale, based on recent GOP candidate's responses, it looks like this:

Each of these candidates know who their constituency is (or what they want it to be) and is playing to their base. For the candidates on the far right, though there's a specific metaphor that they are bringing to battle: Kim Davis is like Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who famously refused to give up her bus seat--taking a stand (or, well, a sit) for her rights. She went to jail too. Is Kim Davis the new Rosa Parks? Let's look. How do we know?

Pro-Kim: Why Davis Is Parks

Briefly rounding up the easiest sources, it looks like this: the SCOTUS ruling legalizing gay marriage is illegitimate (either because it is morally wrong or unconstitutional--or both) and therefore Davis has a legitimate claim protect her (constitutionally protected) religious convictions.

Anti-Kim: Why Davis Is The Bus-Driver Trying To Make Parks Go To The Back of The Bus

Again, pretty straight forward: Kim is using her position of power to prevent minorities from using the same 'service' as the majority. She is basing this on the fact that she feels they are not "equal" in a material fashion and therefore have no claim to the "equal treatment."

So, Which Is She?

Trying to navigate the waters here is tricky if you try to decompose the arguments into 'Truth.' A few quick points to illustrate why we need a heuristic like Mike German's rather than the ethical equivalent of a Geometry Proof:
  1. In Park's case the law of the land was being used to deny equal services. In this case the law of the land requires equal services.
  2. In Davis' case, she is carrying out a government function (in theory, with the weight of the government behind her). In Park's case she was going up against the government as an activist.
  3. In Davis' case, she has been doing the job unencumbered for 27 years. The court ruling happened less than three months ago. In contrast, the bus driver (and Jim Crow laws) were entrenched when Parks protested them.
  4. The biblical case for not letting black people sit in the front of the bus is (nearly) non-existent. The biblical case for not participating in a gay marriage is (despite what you may think) considerably stronger.
So how do we know? Well, we look at what they're doing to go against the power.

Parks v. Bus Driver

Here are our criteria:
  1. Personal Risk to the Activist: How much personal risk is the activist taking?
  2. Position of Power of the Activist: Is the person doing the segregating in a position of power or not?
  3. Nature of the Exclusion: Is the law being violated exclusive or inclusive?

Personal Risk

If you are going to be a martyr then you need to actually get eaten by lions or something. In both cases Parks and Davis knew they were going to be arrested (indeed, that was the point--for both of them) so the desired outcome was always to make a stand from the position of being oppressed. However, notably:
  1. Parks was jailed for disobeying a law that put her in jail as a criminal. She was sentenced to hard labor.
  2. Davis is being held in contempt of court. She can leave any time she wants--either to resign or start issuing marriage licenses.
Analysis: Bus Driver

Position of Power

We can make the case that Christians (at least real ones) are so downtrodden that they don't have positions of power anymore. That requires some pretzel logic though. The entire conservative viewpoint is based on the principal that the state is more dangerous than individuals (it's the one with jails and big guns). 
  1. Parks was a private citizen going up against the state.
  2. Davis is a functionary of the state at odds with another organ of the state.
  3. Gays who are denied the state-sponsored service (whom the state has agreed should receive it) are private citizens in their capacity of getting married.
Analysis: Bus Driver

Nature Of The Exclusionary Law

Actually there's some controversy over the "law in question." Davis is refusing to abide by a court order (several) to start issuing licenses. She isn't being jailed for breaking a law. Some analysis (comments sections) holds that the SCOTUS judgment just negates the bans. It doesn't place an affirmative must-marry-gays law in place. Therefore (Cognito Ipsum Lorem Hocus Pocus) Davis isn't breaking a law by not marrying gays.

Does this legal(?) analysis hold any water? The Omnivore isn't a lawyer--but he assumes the answer is "of course not." However, the good news is--and this is to reinforce the process--we don't have to be. We can skip the legal arguments and just ask, hey, is what's being done inclusive or exclusive.
  1. The law in the case of Parks required different accommodations based on personal appearance of the individual.
  2. The law in the case of Davis provides the identical service regardless of genders / sexual-orientation.
Analysis: Bus Driver


The battle over Davis vs. Parks will be played out in the public arena with the Congressional candidates being dragged along like a boat being keel-hauled by Jaws. The above method, though, is a way (you can set up other precepts and measure--just do it up front) to cut through the rhetoric and set some zones of discussion up without having to try to tunnel through the pretzel-logic argumentation of law, popularity, and so on.

NOTE: Neo-Neocon points out that some places (Utah) are making changes to their marriage offices to accommodate these objections. If this becomes the norm, Davis' martyrdom will dry up pretty quickly.

UPDATE: In a moment of surreal (but terribly beautiful) exposure, Davis pens "A Letter From Carson County Jail." She thanks Huckabee (whose FreeKimDavis site's DONATE button links to HIS Campaign donate page--not a defense fund) and Ted Cruz for their "unwelding" support.

UPDATE 2: Is the Twitter Account fake?


  1. "The biblical case for not letting black people sit in the front of the bus is (nearly) non-existent. The biblical case for not participating in a gay marriage is (despite what you may think) considerably stronger."

    I'm not sure what relevance that has to the Constitution and the law, but I will assert that Jim Crow, and slavery before it, had solid Biblical support, according to the many churches and 'Christians' supporting it.

    Of course, they don't say that now, because it looks bad (1860 wagon sticker: 'Slavery. God said it. I believe it. That settles it').


    1. Well, the biblical case is clearly pretty important to people who think they are being forced by law to commit a sin. Yes, slavery and Jim Crow *did* have the support of the church--no question--but (IMO) the case was weak. The case against marriage-participation is (IMO) considerably stronger.

      Now, they may fundamentally boil down to the same emotional drivers--possible--but if we're going to argue about whether the won't-participate-in-marriage people are wrong, I think we have to address the argument as stated. --The Omnivore

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! --The Omnivore

    2. Whereas Rosa Parks was out to shine a spotlight on immoral laws which never should have been enacted in the first place, Kim Davis is just being an obstructionist butthole and hoping for the support of similarly bigoted nincompoops. It's not like anyone's compelling her to bake same-sex couples a cake, FFS.

      My analysis: FAIL.

      -- Ω

  3. Davis is operating on behalf of the State. In fact, in her role she -is- the State. As such, religious belief/opinion on the issue is not only irrelevant but also completely inappropriate. She may quit her role. She may recuse herself (I suppose). But in taking the job, she vowed to uphold the Constitution, not her religious belief. If she can't separate the two, then she doesn't understand our government enough to fulfill her employment contract and she should go.

  4. And btw, wrt referred article 'Eternal Fascism:...', is it me, or do most of the enumerated points sound disturbingly Tea Party? Not calling them fascist, necessarily. But those listed precursor requirements make a bell go ring-ring a little than a couple times.

    1. The Eternal Fascism points precede the Tea Party by quite a lot--but there are some similarities there, yes (I think the focus on humiliation is a component that bears looking at). -- TO