A Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, was jailed on Sept. 3 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized these marriages in June. On Aug. 31, the high court denied Davis’ argument that her Apostolic Christian faith gave her grounds to refuse the licenses on the basis of “freedom of religion.”
Right-wingers and social media have spotlighted Davis, both praising her as a “martyr” and damning her with vile, anti-woman epithets for her Appalachian speech, sexual history and appearance.
But behind Davis’ media image is a strategy concocted at the highest levels of the elite U.S. ruling class. It is funded by billionaires on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people, and it is part of a web of racist, anti-union, anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and anti-environment organizing.
Davis’ lawyer, Matt Staver, is the founder of Liberty Counsel, a conservative evangelical law firm affiliated with Liberty University, the school established by reactionary televangelist Jerry Falwell in 1971. The firm has offices in California, Florida, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and an “outreach in Israel.”
Right Wing Watch’s blog describes Liberty Counsel as one of “the most extreme religious right groups in the country.” (June 12, 2014)
The Liberty Counsel web page describes its goals as “advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family”— code words for an extremist Christian ideology focused on denying women reproductive rights and health care and denying LGBTQ people the right to marriage with its accompanying economic and parental rights.
Major donors to Liberty Counsel are brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, Texans who made billions with their company Frac Tech, selling fracking technology — also known as “well stimulation services.” This is the dangerous gas drilling method opposed by environmentalists.
The Wilks brothers fund projects promoted by the extreme religious right and those in the Koch brothers’ political network. Charles G. and David H. Koch are the main backers of the bigoted, rightist Tea Party movement. Their father made a fortune developing a new “cracking” method to refine heavy oil into gasoline.
According to Right Wing Watch, Farris Wilks also “funds a network of [so-called] ‘pregnancy centers’ that refuse, on principle, to talk to single women about contraception. (Married women need to check with their husband and pastor.)”
The Wilks brothers adhere to the ideologies of right-wing revisionist “historian” David Barton and conservative political operative David Lane who preach that the U.S. is “a nation founded by Christians … for the Glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”
Right Wing Watch states that the Kochs promote religious right leaders who spout the view that “the Bible opposes the minimum wage, progressive taxation, capital gains taxes, the estate tax, and unions and collective bargaining.” (June 3)
The South: racism, religion and the working class
Davis is both being used and caught between bourgeois forces in the Democratic and Republican parties, which are jockeying for control of the U.S. political and legal system.
In the ramp-up to the 2016 presidential election, Democrats are appealing to some elements in their base by enforcing the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling at the state level. Republicans are vying to see which candidate can capture Southern white workers, and they are linking right-wing Christianity to their strategy.
The deeply racist character of the far-right’s strategy is revealed by Donald Trump’s immigrant bashing at a rally of 20,000 people in Mobile, Ala., on Aug. 21.
Also, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck marshaled 20,000 people to chant “All Lives Matter” in Birmingham, Ala., on Aug. 29. Beck’s rally was part of a reactionary campaign to negate the important Black Lives Matter movement and co-opt its slogan into a clarion call to racists and the anti-choice Christian right.
These machinations conceal underlying contradictions for the capitalists. Bosses need educated, thoughtful, skilled workers to use new technologies being implemented in the auto, electronics and steel industries, and Google Tech centers, especially in the South. Yet, business owners also strive to keep workers misinformed, backward and divided — to prevent worker solidarity and unionization. They use their tools of racism, anti-immigrant bigotry, and gender and LGBTQ oppression to try to do so.
Kim Davis is a white worker who lives in Appalachia, which stretches from northern Alabama to southern Pennsylvania. Almost 30 percent of the residents of Rowan County, Ky., where Davis is county clerk, live below the poverty line and 95 percent are white. (U.S. Census Bureau)
Despite Davis’ actions, which she says are based on her religious beliefs, she is not protected from sexist slurs on social media. Conservative billionaires are using her as a pawn to promote reactionary religious views that keep workers from joining unions that would raise their wages, that oppose women’s access to abortion, contraception and other essential health care, and that deny LGBTQ people their rights.
The racism of “Christian-nation” extremism divides Davis and others like her from the growing, dynamic Southern worker organizing led in large part by African-American and Latino/a activists and members of other oppressed communities. This rising tide recently won historic advances in raising low-paid workers’ wages in Alabama and North Carolina and has resulted in an upsurge of union campaigns in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee auto plants.
Right-wing Christian ideologue Farris Wilks is a funder of Davis’ legal “defense.” Right Wing Watch states, “[He] said, ‘There are only two basic ideas in the world,’ and they are free enterprise and socialism.” Wilks is one of the world’s richest individuals and staunchest upholders of capitalist exploitation.
As Karl Marx explained, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature. … It is the opium of the people,” an ideology that offers hope to workers exploited under capitalism who see no hope. Marxism counters the reactionary religious extremism that opposes justice and the view of a better world — on earth — for workers and oppressed people.
Marxism gives a scientifically based, pro-socialist perspective that can effectively counter the dead-end despair of high-tech, low-wage capitalism, and offers the prospects of a hopeful future — a world built by and for all workers.