After months of scrutiny by the public and the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, Marion County Judge Vance Day maintains that he was denied his First Amendment rights by being charged with violating the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct. Now the commission is seeking additional money from the Oregon Legislature to pay for the expenses of this highly controversial religious liberty case.
Judge Day was brought under investigation by the commission last year because of complaints about his refusal to perform marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples. Not wanting to make a public statement about his choice, Day had initially been referring couples to other judges to perform such ceremonies. In the state of Oregon, judges do have the right to not perform marriage ceremonies, yet problems arose from those offended by his religious convictions. He later made the decision to refrain from carrying out any marriage ceremonies at all.
On January 25th, the commission recommended that Day be removed from the bench. The Oregon Supreme Court is expected to hear testimony about his case in June.
On Wednesday, members of the Commission appeared before the Joint Sub Committee on Public Safety in the Oregon Legislature to request more funds for what they refer to as “extraordinary expenses.” They requested an extra $172,000 to cover the costs of investigation and assisting in the prosecution of Judge Day. The sub-committee granted the request, which will be rolled into the 2016 session budget reconciliation bill which has yet to pass out of the Legislature.
The commission presented a list of violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct that Judge Day had been found guilty of. These included his solicitations of funds for the non-profit Partnership for Veterans at Risk to display war memorabilia in the courthouse. This display included an original painting of Adolf Hitler, among other items, which some deemed offensive, though it was part of a World War Two memorial.
Aside from these complaints, the most public issue was Judge Day’s views of same-sex marriage. While the commission voted that he be removed from his position, Judge Day has confirmed that he will fight to remain on the bench and maintain his constitutional religious rights.
“Judge Day has not discriminated against anybody,” said Kevin Mannix, a Salem area attorney and friend of Day. “…Across the board he’s simply said ‘I’m not performing wedding ceremonies’.”
Discussing the problem of when constitutional rights come in conflict with one another, Judge Day said in an interview, “What are we going to do with judges like myself who have a firmly held religious belief, whatever area? Whether they be of a Judeo-Christian viewpoint, Muslim viewpoint…a Hindu viewpoint. Do those firmly held religious beliefs somehow…deserve a lesser species of protection? I don’t think so.”