by Diana Valentine
Ruth Neely, who has served her community in Wyoming for over twenty years as a municipal judge and circuit court magistrate, has been the victim of a vicious crusade by the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics. After refusing to perform gay weddings because of her Christian beliefs, the state agency demanded last spring that she not only be banned from the judiciary, but also that she pay up to $40,000 in fines for publicly expressing her religious objection. It is important to note that there was at least one other magistrate who performs same-sex weddings, so gay couples were not left without another option. Shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in 2014, Neely stated in an interview, “When law and religion conflict, choices have to be made.”
Almost a year later, the Wyoming Supreme Court has decided to censure Neely by a 3-2 vote, stating that Neely violated the state’s code of judicial conduct and that “no judge can turn down a request to perform a marriage for reasons that undermine the integrity of the judiciary by demonstrating a lack of independence and impartiality.” However, the court stopped short of suspending or removing Neely, essentially leaving her with no further consequences.
While this result may come as somewhat of a relief for conservatives and the religious liberty movement, it is a shame that Neely was rebuked in the first place for the mere action of practicing her faith. Neely’s lawyer stated that the court “recognized that her honorable beliefs about marriage do not disqualify her from serving her community as a judge, which she has done with distinction for more than two decades.” Neely is just one of the many who are under fire for practicing their faith. Her case is just one example of how religious liberty is being so forcefully threatened in the United States today.