Clinton Impeachment Attorney Ken Starr Isn’t Jumping Up to Support Kim Davis

You might remember Judge Ken Starr from the Clinton impeachment proceedings. You might also think Ken Starr is somebody who would support Kim Davis. After all, even the Pope himself has been said to support Kim Davis in her law-breaking activities, although the Vatican now denies that the Pope supports Davis’ particular case or that he was even aware of the details. But you would be mistaken. The current President of the private Baptist Baylor University has a different take altogether.

As reported by Right Wing Watch, in the closing statement at a “Religious Freedom Summit” at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. on September 18 – the Friday before Pope Francis’ visit – Starr said of the Kim Davis case,

“I don’t think that this question is easy. Others may, and the freedom of conscience simply trumps all. But the reason I think it’s not easy is because she is a public official who has taken an oath to uphold the law. I know, I heard the panel saying, look at all the exceptions to individuals who’ve been sworn to uphold the law and who have chosen not to do it. I personally find that a little uncomfortable. Oh, you’re going to pick and choose which laws to enforce.”

Baylor Magazine - President Judge Kenneth Starr portrait at Founders Mall in front of Pat Neff Hall   - 02/16/2010
Baylor Magazine – President Judge Kenneth Starr portrait at Founders Mall in front of Pat Neff Hall – 02/16/2010
Starr asked the audience how they felt about a sheriff or police chief deciding which laws to enforce. This is absolutely a can of worms no law-abiding society should want to open. Where would it end? What if EMTs or doctors or nurses can decide whether or not to save your life depending on some personal characteristic they find objectionable? Or as Starr asked, a policeman, or how about a fireman? Can a clerk at the DMV also refuse to issue you a drivers license?

You can bet if this were about hunting permits or firearms, the right would be howling for Davis’ head. But it’s not: it’s about same-sex couples wanting to get married.

And here, Starr’s outlook for florists and bakers, the cause célèbre of the Indiana Republicans and their Religious Freedom Restoration Act, who might also want to refuse gay customers, was no more optimistic:

“She is one who has opened her bakery or catering service or floral shop to business. She has a license from the state to do business. And in carrying out a commercial business, the general rule is one akin to principle two of nondiscrimination. That rule is deeply anchored in the common law. You’ve got to serve people who come in to you. And also the public accommodation provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when folks were excluded from service on grounds of race. The very idea and ideal of the common law rule is equality — you take care of every customer who comes to you unless you have a very substantial — they’re trying to tear up my shop.”

Starr admitted to what Republicans generally won’t: that “we are an increasingly diverse community of men, women and children who come from so many cultures and traditions …The world we inhabit is a pluralistic one.”

Imagine that. The world Thomas Jefferson saw over two centuries ago has come to fruition, a world where, as Jefferson said, “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions,” and our “fellow Americans” include “the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.”

You have to be willfully blind not to see it. Unfortunately, this is the GOP we’re talking about, and a Papacy that, however progressive this pope is in many areas, is still conservative at heart.

On September 24, in an op-ed in USA Today, Starr again pointed to the importance of religious freedom as the Founding Fathers’ “first freedom” and asked if the Pope will “call us to revive the American belief in the first freedom?” But here Starr has it wrong. The Church is not, and has never been, about religious freedom for all, and if one is looking to the Pope for religious freedom, one is looking in the wrong place, as the Pope’s embrace of Kim Davis demonstrates.

I’ve used this quote before, and it is still and always relevant (emphasis added):

The choice of the way of intolerance by the authorities of Church and empire in the late fourth century has had some very serious and lasting consequences. The last vestiges of its practical effects, in the form of the imposition of at least petty and vexatious disabilities on forms of religion not approved by the local ecclesiastical establishment, lasted in some European countries well into my lifetime. And theoretical approval of this sort of intolerance has often long outlasted the power to apply it in practice. After all, as late as 1945 many approved Roman Catholic theologians in England, and the Roman authorities, objected to a statement on religious freedom very close to Vatican II’s declaration on that subject. In general, I do not think that any Christian body has ever abandoned the power to persecute and repress while it actually had it. The acceptance of religious tolerance and freedom as good in themselves has normally been the belated, though sometimes sincere and whole-hearted, recognition and acceptance of a fait accompli. This long persistence of Theodosian intolerance in practice and its still longer persistence in theory has certainly been a cause, though not the only cause, of that unique phenomenon of our time, the decline not only of Christianity but all forms of religious belief and the growth of a totally irreligious and unspiritual materialism.[1]

In other words, if we want religious freedom – true religious freedom – we can’t wait for the Church to give it to us. We have to take it, and make the religious authorities recognize that we aren’t going to give it up.

To the extent conservatives will insist on looking into the past, while they will hurt others, they will not do so without hurting the cause they claim to espouse. America’s millennials, by turning away from organized religion, have demonstrated the continuing truth of this.

A synopsis of the summit can be found here.

Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Pope supported Kim Davis whereas the Vatican has issued a denial, putting it at odds with the account released by Davis’ attorney, Mat Staver.


[1] A.H. Armstrong, “The Way and the Ways: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in the Fourth Century A.D.” Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984), 1-2.

17 Replies to “Clinton Impeachment Attorney Ken Starr Isn’t Jumping Up to Support Kim Davis”

  1. “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family,” Lombardi explained. “The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”

    The statement follows an anonymously sourced report from Chicago’s CBS affiliate, which claimed that the pope was “blindsided” by the meeting with Davis and her husband, citing a close adviser who is said to have tweeted that the pontiff felt “exploited” by those who arranged the encounter.”

    Charlie Pierce’s article theorized that the meeting was set up intentionally as a dirty deed by a Benedictions who are still loyal to John Paul II and hate Francis; they wanted to see him tainted.
    (follow the $$)

  2. I lean towards Pierce version. I mean who outside of the US know who Kim Davis is? And when it comes to ratfuking know one does it better than the Reich wing

  3. Francis, a Jesuit, skunked by a Baptist.
    Was he ill-served by plotting prelates?
    …or did he step in it of his own accord?
    I just don’t know.

    What I do suspect, however, is that this may have been the defining moment in a brief pontificate. Francis will be remembered is a well-meaning and affable fool.

  4. Agreed. However, the Pope’s words stand as they are, regardless of the circumstances of the meeting:

    “Conscientious objection is a right, and part of the body of all human rights,” the pope said. “If we want to make peace, we must respect all rights.”

    and, while not addressing specifically the case of Kim Davis, he said,

    “If a government official is a human person, he has that right.”

    The Pope is wrong, and Thomas Jefferson would tell him so.

  5. Please stop reporting that the Pope supports Kim Davis. The Vatican released a statement denying that and stating that he did not give her a private audience – he shook her hand in a reception line and that’s it. Once again, this story about the Pope supporting Kim Davis is a huge lie from her insane attorney.

  6. The Pope is, if he even said this, correct. Kim Davis, the private citizen, DOES have the right to obey her conscience. However, she does not have the right to hold everyone else hostage to her religious ideas by refusing to do her job and he never said that she did.

  7. The RWNJs are desperate. They will not accept who we are as a country. They think just because things were one way at one time, makes them how it should be. They never give thought to maybe it shouldn’t have been that way in the first place. No one’s religion is our government. It never was and never will be. RWNJs have missed what this is all about: (If you choose) Love God, follow your religion and leave the rest of us alone. That’s it. There’s your freedom of religion or lack there of.

  8. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said “I don’t deny that the meeting took place,” and said “several dozen” people were present at the Vatican Embassy during the meeting. If the details are being debated by her attorney and the Vatican, it remains true that however they were meant, the Pope’s words are problematic.

    Nevertheless, I will correct my statement to take into account the Vatican’s objections

  9. The pope said to stay strong or stand strong. He didn’t tell her to break the law. This sounds more like her lawyer trying to twist it’s meaning to fit an agenda. The Liberty Council has filed suit against Gov Bashear of Ky because he sent a letter to all co clerks, telling them that the supreme court had ruled in favor of a same sex marriage, and Ky would abide by the law. How does this personally discriminate against her? The same legal logic seems to be at work here with the popes message.
    English isn’t his first language, so I’m sure whoever put this out there put the best spin on it to fit an agenda.

  10. …that “Fk”in’ Teahadist fanatical ambulance chaser is gonna wind up disbarred the victim o’ his own fanaticism…o’ course, he’ll blame Obama…

  11. “a Papacy that, however progressive this pope is in many areas, is still conservative at heart”

    No it isn’t. The man has made that perfectly clear. Do your homework.

    Besides which, why would you expect any church to “give us religious freedom” anyway? It’s not up to the church. It’s up to our lawmakers. Clearly, the Tea Party is not into that whole church/state separation thing and clearly they’ve mistaken Jesus for Ayn Rand, so why are you trying to drop our responsibilities in the Pope’s lap. He doesn’t get a vote.

    It is our responsibility to drag our lazy butts to the polls. It is our fault that the Libertarian theocrats are dismantling the Constitution. When I say “our” I mean other people. The left allowed these lunatics to take control of government at every level…right down to local dog catcher and county clerk. So look in the mirror as you repeat the “both sides” mantra until they own every branch of government. What’s the Pope got to do with it

  12. The attendance list was generated by, and approved by, the Papal Nuncio, supposedly the Vatican representative in Washington. In point of fact, he is in the pocket of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and of the right wing of the Republican party.

  13. This article wasn’t about Kim Davis and the Pope. It was about Ken Starr’s statements about making exceptions to basic Constitutional law. And, being a liberal Democrat myself, I see us doing just that in our bending over backwards to be inclusive of all opinions and seeing all viewpoints, no matter how offensive to decency and the Constitution. That, in essence, is why we have so much trouble with the right wing nutters beating our reasonable and responsible candidates. Republicans just pick up a stick and go to war.

  14. I liken Davis to Palin, publicity seekers at any cost. Her lawyer needs to learn fact from lies. Davis has violated the constitutional rights of others. Isn’t that violation of civilrights of others and harassment of fellow employees. Impeach her!

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