Darin Smith: Recommendation to Remove Wyoming Judge is a ‘Religious Litmus Test’
Cheyenne attorney and Christian Broadcasting Network executive Darin Smith describes the Wyoming Supreme Court case dealing with a state judicial ethics commission's recommendation to remove a Pinedale judge who said she would not perform same-sex marriages as a "religious litmus test" that represents a trampling of First Amendment rights.
Smith calls it "the same religious litmus test that they used in the former Soviet Union." He is one of 13 candidates seeking Wyoming's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics began its investigation of Neely in January 2015 after a federal judge in Casper struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban and Neely told a Pinedale Roundup reporter that her religious convictions would prevent her from marrying same-sex couples.
"Judge Neely merely said 'No, I won't. I'm a Christian and it violates my conscience, so I won't be doing that,'" Smith surmises. "She was called before an ethics panel at the State of Wyoming, and they recommended that she be terminated as a judge because of her Christian beliefs."
The commission served Neely with a notice of commencement of formal proceedings on March 4, 2015, alleging she violated six rules of judicial conduct.
Those proceedings resulted in the commission filing a recommendation with the Wyoming Supreme Court requesting Neely be removed as PInedale municipal court judge and circuit court magistrate.
"Are you kidding? We're going to have a religious litmus test for people to hold public office?" Smith asks. "If we lose that right in Pinedale, Wyoming, then we lose that right everywhere."
Neely's attorneys, from the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, asked the court to reject the recommendation. They argue that the commission's recommendation violate Neely's rights to free exercise of religion and free speech.
"The next litmus test after they do this to judges will be 'hey, so-and-so can't run for public office because they have a particular view on an issue that's this way,'" Smith adds.
However, the commission argues that Neely's rights don't allow her to refuse to marry same-sex couples, nor does it "exempt her from complying with the Wyoming Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits such conduct by a judge and to which she swore her oath to abide by as a judicial officer for the State of Wyoming."
The commission says Neely would be ignoring the law if she did so, and her "unwillingness to even acknowledge the ethical implications" means she cannot continue in her current role.
"The judge is ethically obligated both to uphold and apply the law, which in this instance is equality for same-sex couples," the commission says in a brief filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court.
That brief goes on to say "Judge Neely's conduct diminishes public perception of Wyoming's judicial system and diminishes the confidence of Wyoming people that their judges and justices will administer the law fairly and equally."
Neely has not refused to wed any same-sex couples, as none have sought her services as magistrate.
Neely has been suspended pending the outcome of the case.