Church-State Watchdog Group Says Gilmer County Deputy Clerk Has No Right To Disparage or Preach To Couples
A Gilmer County, W.Va., deputy clerk who verbally abused a same-sex couple seeking a marriage license has no right to harass or attempt to evangelize the people she is obligated to serve, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.
In a letter sent today to Gilmer County commissioners and County Clerk Jean Butcher, Americans United explained that Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen violated the constitutional rights of a same-sex couple that recently obtained a marriage license from the Gilmer County Clerk’s office when she told them they would be judged by God.
“It is both cruel and unacceptable for a government employee to berate anyone he or she serves in an official capacity,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Even though Ms. Allen did not refuse to issue a license in this instance, she still deprived an innocent couple of their rights when she treated them like second-class citizens.”
Recently, Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich sought a marriage license at the Gilmer County Courthouse. It has been reported that Allen, who processed their license, told the couple that she did not agree with their marriage and allegedly called their actions “an abomination” during a rant that lasted two to three minutes.
Allen admits she judged the couple, telling the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “I just told them my opinion. I just felt led to do that. I believe God was standing with me and that’s just my religious belief.”
Butcher, who is Allen’s supervisor, told Brookover’s mother that she has similar views on marriage equality. She dismissed the couple’s concerns, telling the newspaper, “They were issued the license, and that was the main thing.”
In its letter, Americans United explained that the freedom of speech does not give government employees the right to verbally abuse anyone – even if they claim religious belief as a motive.
“The [constitutional] violation here is especially serious because Ms. Allen proselytized to a same-sex couple visiting a government office to obtain a government license that is required for them to get married. Indeed, the Deputy Clerk has admitted that her goal was to impose her own religious beliefs on the couple…,” asserts the letter.
“Decision after decision has reinforced that government officials have no constitutional right to direct unwanted religious messages at the public,” it continues.
This action is part of Americans United’s Protect Thy Neighbor project, which seeks to stop religion-based discrimination against LGBT persons and others.
“As the Kim Davis case reminded us, a government official may not block or burden citizens’ right to marry, no matter what that official’s religious beliefs,” said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper. “Like other loving couples, same-sex couples have the right to obtain marriage licenses without receiving a sermon from a renegade deputy clerk.”
The letter was written by Lipper, Americans United Legal Director Richard B. Katskee and Legal Fellow John McGinnis. It asks for a response within 14 days.