The Vietnam War was made famous, among many other ignoble reasons, by the large number of freshly minted conscientious objectors that came out of the woodwork to avoid being drafted into the unrewarding and extremely dangerous chore of manning firebases and trenches in the Viet Cong, mosquito, and heroin infested jungles and rice paddies of South Vietnam. Hordes of young American men tore up their draft cards and streamed northward to Canada, and if they couldn’t bring themselves to renounce their citizenship, went into hiding. It was the law of the land to respond to the call of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Air Force, but heretofore agnostic draftees were born again, finding all sorts of religious or political objections to being called up to serve.
There were certainly all sorts of good reasons to object to the Vietnam War. The U.S. Armed Services had a flawed record of human rights in Vietnam and adherence to the Geneva Conventions. The generals running the war were arrogant and incompetent. The corrupt government of South Vietnam had little support from the general populace. American troops were poorly equipped and trained for guerrilla jungle and urban warfare. And most of all, the rationale for fighting in far away Vietnam was tenuous at best—a foggy Cold War notion of halting the domino effect of the spread of Communism—on Communist China’s front door no less.
The draft was done away with thirty years ago and today’s military is all-volunteer. It is hard to imagine the desperation behind the need to avoid the horrors of a seemingly socially-unjust war. But whether or not whether you agree with any of the reasoning put forward by Vietnam-era draft dodgers, you can agree with one thing—it was an individual choice to comply with the draft. If a draft-dodger ran for Canada or Mexico, they generally only hurt themselves. Of course the U.S. government was concerned about the viral effect of tolerating civil disobedience. But the conscientious objector, draft dodger, and whatever euphemism you want to use for someone who was trying to avoid service, could not prevent the drafting of other Americans, could not prevent the U.S. Armed Services from carrying out their duties, overlooked the fact that the majority of those who served in Vietnam were volunteers, and could not prevent the government from functioning under its authority granted by the Constitution.
Now we have the legalization of gay marriage and Kim Davis.
Kim Davis, an obscure Kentucky county clerk, has surfaced in the national consciousness by refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. She has gone so far as to be sent to prison for contempt by a federal judge, only to be released after promising not to stand in the way of deputy clerks issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Or in another words, as long as she does not have to personally discharge her sworn duties for certain citizens but do so instead selectively by proxy, she can continue draw a paycheck from taxpayers and stay out of prison.
As Kareem Abdul Jabbar writes in Time, there is a fundamental flaw in this reasoning:
The reason we separate Church and State is because the Founding Fathers believed government should be guided by a balance of morality and reason, not blind religious faith. There are about 35 major Christian denominations in the U.S. Various denominations don’t always agree with each other on what the proper moral action is in the same situation. Then we add in all the other religions and belief systems in our country—all protected by the Constitution—and we see why we don’t go to any one religion to decide what should be legal. The Orthodox Jewish clerk at the DMV cannot deny you a driver’s license because you eat ham. The Muslim clerk at the Social Security office can’t deny you benefits because you drink liquor. The Christian Scientist clerk at the IRS cannot audit your taxes because you chose medical help. Practice your religion in freedom; just don’t make everyone else practice your religion.
Megan McArdle of BloombergView also noted:
Kim Davis does not have the right to refuse to issue marriage licenses while remaining county clerk. She’s sworn to uphold the laws of the United States, Kentucky and her county. If she can’t carry out her job, then she should resign.
In other words, Catholic doctors who don’t want to perform abortions should have a right to refuse. And hospitals that want to fire them for refusing should have that right. You cannot demand a religious accommodation that is essentially refusing to do a core part of your job. Comparing Kim Davis to the many people who have been persecuted for their Christian beliefs is absurd. The choice for early Christian martyrs was to reject their faith or die. The choice was not: reject their faith or lose a good job as head priest at the Temple of Jupiter.
Kim Davis wants to both hold political office and be a conscientious objector on behalf of her faith or set of values. She wants to maintain her authority over the lives of taxpayers on her own terms, not those set by the Constitution. She wants to have her cake and eat it too.
I guess running away to Canada was not an option.