Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

A far Western Kentucky judge landed himself in hot water earlier this month when the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) threatened a lawsuit over his refusal to perform a secular wedding. Trigg County Judge Executive Hollis Alexander was asked to perform nuptials for a Tennessee couple with an unusual request: they insisted the ceremony have no reference to God, someone Alexander believes is part of every marriage covenant.

Alexander told the Cadiz Record "I include God in my ceremonies, and I won't do one without him." The belief that there is a Creator who has something to do with marriage was once widely held and noncontroversial. However, just a year after the Supreme Court rewrote the understanding of marriage, such beliefs are being marginalized.

Full disclosure: Alexander is a friend. I talked with him the other day and learned of the verbal attacks all of which are coming from outside of Trigg County. He's been threatened by FFRF attorney's to change the language of his marriage ceremonies, but opted instead to stop performing them altogether.

What's interesting is the zeal in which FFRF prosecutes its mission. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel's confidence that he's serving a higher purpose rivals that of an evangelist. He told Alexander in a letter that SCOTUS has interpreted the 'First Amendment as a mandate for governmental neutrality between religion and nonreligion. And "Moreover, it has stated, 'the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere.'" 

Just where exactly in the Constitution does it say citizens can force elected officials to perform their marriage ceremony? All kinds of legal theories can be conjured up by crafty attorneys but boil down the Tennessee couples argument that would force Alexander to capitulate his religious beliefs and let the dross of frivolous attacks be strained out.

It's hubris to for a group like FFRF to demand Alexander promise in writing that any future marriage ceremonies he performs exclude God, unless requested. Alexander's practice is consistent with the oath he took when he place his hand on the Bible. Judge He wasn't imposing his values on anyone. He was simply doing his job as he has always done—according to his conscience. This is precisely what the First Amendment protects.  We shouldn't expect elected officials to shed their constitutional right to religious freedom once in office.

Secularism's heavy hand, ready to slap down any semblance of faith in the public arena, hurts us all. Consider what the missionaries of secularism have accomplished in Kentucky: censoring elementary school kids in Johnson County from reciting a Biblical passage in a Charlie Brown Christmas; discriminating against religious organizations like Answers in Genesis from state tax incentives that other businesses would receive; and jail time for elected officials like Kim Davis whose conscience wouldn't permit her name to affirm a homosexual marriage license.
Secularism is a belief system in and of itself. Its doctrinal statement is that God has no place in public life. It seeks to convert those who follow His ways publicly and preach they must keep their light under a bushel, or at least in their church pews. Adherents to secularism are certain the important questions of life can be answered through materialistic philosophy and they leave no room for religiously informed views. At heart, the fruit of secularism is intolerance. It is foreign to our Constitutional ideals that secure a place for religion in public life.

In an age of hatred and violence we decry immorality and injustice and long for righteousness in our streets. We demand our public officials to be honest and trustworthy, yet when they abide by a higher moral code they are criticized and somehow viewed as a threat. To what? 

The real threat isn't too much religion in the public square or people with convictions like Alexander; the grave threat is a public square sanitized of religious influence, leaving the rest of us without a basis for the things we long for. When religious influence is divorced from public life and we are all made to bow at the altar of secularism, we will find that our conscience has little use outside of Sunday services.