Judge Ruth Neely censured

Judge Ruth Neely censured but will remain on the bench

We are in legal Never Never Land — uncharted territory within a society and a legal system increasingly averse to Christians living faithfully in their vocations. Pastor John Hill, president of the LCMS Wyoming District, filled me in yesterday. The decision of the Wyoming Supreme Court on the case of Wyoming Judge Ruth Neely has landed. By a 3-2 majority, they ruled Judge Neely — a faithful member of an LCMS congregation — is guilty of 3 of 4 ethics violations filed by the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics.

Here’s part of the ruling:

“We decline to remove Judge Neely from her position as a municipal court judge; such a punishment would ‘unnecessarily circumscribe protected expression,’ and we are mindful of our goal to narrowly tailor the remedy;” and “We conclude that Judge Ruth Neely shall receive a public censure; Judge Neely shall either perform no marriage ceremonies or she shall perform marriage ceremonies regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation.”

It will be up to the circuit court judge to decide if she shall continue as a circuit court magistrate. Both the seriousness and the ridiculousness of this ruling are amply demonstrated by three paragraphs from the minority decision of two Wyoming Supreme Court justices:

[109] A reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would know that Judge Neely was never asked to perform a same-sex marriage, and had never refused such a request. He or she would know that all who work with her have expressed unreserved confidence that she will be absolutely fair and impartial to all litigants, whatever their sexual preference. Such a reasonable person would know that Wyoming law does not require Judge Neely to perform any marriage. He or she would know that the law prohibits judges and other public officials in Wyoming from denying marriage to same-sex couples, and no same-sex couple has been denied marriage by or because of Judge Neely’s statements. Further, a reasonable person would know that there is no indication that any same-sex couple is likely to be denied or delayed in obtaining a civil marriage because of Judge Neely’s statements or religious beliefs. A reasonable person would know that if asked to perform such a marriage, Judge Neely would assist in finding an appropriate officiant, and that there is no shortage of such officiants. A reasonable person, apprised of these facts, could not conclude that Judge Neely’s statements gave the appearance of impropriety nor that they eroded public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. To the contrary, a reasonable mind would conclude, as Ms. Anderson did, “it would be obscene and offensive to discipline Judge Neely for her statement … about her religious beliefs regarding marriage.”
[161] In our pluralistic society, the law should not be used to coerce ideological conformity. Rather, on deeply contested moral issues, the law should “create a society in which both sides can live their own values.” Douglas Laycock, Religious Liberty and the Culture Wars, 2014 … That is precisely how Wyoming has approached the matter since its founding.
[163] There is no cause for discipline in this case, nor for concern if Judge Neely is not disciplined or precluded from performing marriages. Same sex couples have full access to marriage, all persons before the courts can be certain of an unbiased and impartial judiciary, and religious individuals can remain in public office even if they hold a traditional religious view of marriage. Judicial positions are filled without either side insisting on a religious test for who may serve. There is room enough in Wyoming for both sides to live according to their respective views of sex, marriage and religion.

District President Hill writes, “Our thanks to you and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod for the encouragement, prayers and support offered on behalf of Judge Neely and her family, her pastor Kevin Rose and her congregation in Pinedale.”
Our thanks to YOU, District President Hill, Pastor Rose and all the great folks in Wyoming and beyond who stand with us, the First Amendment and the truth of God in Holy Scripture. Thank you, Judge Neely, for the civil and Christian conviction to stand in the face of tyranny.

Pastor Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
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