WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ignoring the pleas of LGBT citizens in the small town of Pinedale, Wyoming, a state agency is demanding that – after over 20 years of sterling service – Judge Ruth Neely be banned for life from the judiciary and pay up to $40,000 in fines merely for stating that her faith prevents her from personally performing same-sex weddings. Even though small-town magistrates like Judge Neely aren’t required or even paid by the state to perform weddings, the state agency concluded that Judge Neely “manifested a bias” and is therefore permanently unfit to serve as a judge. This would be the first time in the country that a judge was removed from office because of her religious beliefs about marriage.
“As a local LGBT couple who actually knows Judge Neely put it:
punishing Judge Neely for her religious beliefs would be ‘obscene and
offensive,’” said Daniel Blomberg, Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which submitted a friend-of-the-court brief
defending Judge Neely. “They were right. In America, the government
doesn’t get to punish people for their religious beliefs—especially not
for beliefs that the U.S. Supreme Court itself, in the very opinion that
recognized same-sex marriage, said were ‘decent and honorable’ and held
‘in good faith by reasonable and sincere people.’”
Judge Neely has served the community
of Pinedale, Wyoming (population, 2030) for over 20 years. Many local
officials in Pinedale can solemnize weddings, but are not required to do
so. Judges like Judge Neely can decline to perform weddings for many
reasons, such as a desire to marry only friends and family, to avoid
conflicts with fishing, football games, or hair appointments, or even
simply because they “don’t feel like it.” Nevertheless, Judge Neely
faces removal from office for saying that her religious beliefs would
prevent her from performing a same-sex marriage—even though she has
never even been asked to perform one.
Judge Neely has had a career of
impeccable service, with local mayors and citizens praising her fairness
and impartiality. The local town attorney says that “every[one] who
appears before Ruth gets a fair shake,” and another Pinedale resident
says “Ruth Neely is one of the best people I have ever met.” Even the
state agency calling for her ouster admits she has “served the community
well” and she’s a “well-recognized and respected judge.” The worst
offense that the state agency was able to find was that she occasionally
corrected police officers who used bad grammar in writing tickets.
“Unfortunately, the agency is trying make an example out of Judge
Neely to intimidate any other judge that doesn’t toe the agency’s line
on marriage,” continued Blomberg. “But the constitution
doesn’t allow government agents to purge the judiciary of anyone who
holds ‘heretical’ views about marriage.”
The Becket Fund today submitted an amicus brief
in support of Judge Neely in the Wyoming Supreme Court. Joining the
Becket Fund on the amicus brief is local counsel Douglas W. Bailey.
Judge Neely is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket Fund attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.