Pinedale, Wyoming is a town with a population of just over 2,000 people. It is considered a gateway to the more famous Jackson Hole and sits surrounded by over 1,300 lakes. In such a small town everyone knows everyone else, and their local judge is beloved by all.
Her name is Ruth Neely and her career is in jeopardy after she gave an interview to a local newspaper admitting that her religious beliefs would prevent her from officiating at a same-sex marriage, an interview she gave shortly after Wyoming legalized same-sex marriage in 2014.
Mind you, Judge Neely is a municipal judge and circuit court magistrate whose cases involve traffic offences, bylaw breaches, and the like. Her judicial role does not include performing marriages of any kind, and she has never been asked to perform a same-sex marriage.
Nonetheless, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics is seeking to remove her from her position and wants her to pay $40,000 in fines as well, because they allege her media comments manifest a bias and make her unfit to be a judge.
The Casper Star Tribune reported that the Wyoming Commission told Judge Neely they would drop their prosecution of her if she would resign, admit wrongdoing, and never again seek a judicial position in Wyoming. Later the Commission suggested she could stay on, but only if she publicly apologized, and agreed to perform same-sex marriages. Judge Neely declined their offers and is now fighting to maintain her religious convictions.
Judge Neely’s dilemma has engendered a groundswell of support, including from members of the local LGBT community. An oft-repeated sentiment is that “it would be obscene and offensive to discipline Judge Neely for her religious beliefs about marriage.”
The Commission’s persecution of Judge Neely is particularly egregious as they admit she has served the community well for twenty years, and is a well-recognized and well-respected judge.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington, D. C. have come to Judge Neely’s aid. Their mission is to “protect the free expression of all religious traditions. Their clients have included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.
Lawyers from the Becket Fund filed a brief on the judge’s behalf which declared “This would be the first time in the country that a judge was removed from office because of her religious beliefs about marriage.”
It seems wrongheaded to oust a judge for her religious views when those views do not interfere with her judicial duties. There is something very strange going on here.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang