Free to Believe

Ruth Neely

Pinedale Town Hall: Pinedale, Wyoming

All it took for Municipal Judge Ruth Neely to be threatened with termination was to tell a reporter about her religious beliefs that would preclude her from performing same-sex marriages. Not only that, but the Wyoming state Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics is also seeking to enact a fine of up to $40,000 against Neely.

In February, the Commission demanded that Neely make a public apology for her position, and that she agree to preside over same-sex weddings. She responded through her legal counsel that “to do so would violate her religious beliefs.”

Since then, a wide array of supporters from all over Wyoming are stepping forward in Neely’s defense, who has a distinguished 21-year career in the Pinedale, Wyo. Town Hall. Alliance Defending Freedom, who is now legally representing Neely, filed a brief with Wyoming’s Supreme Court, part of which states: “The fundamental principle that no judge should be expelled from office because of her core convictions unites a diverse group of Wyoming’s citizens, including members of the LGBT community who have expressed dismay at the commission’s actions here.”

Among them is Kathryn Anderson, who identifies as homosexual and was legally married to another woman in 2014 by one of the nine public officials who can legally officiate over weddings in Pinedale. Anderson stated in an affidavit that “it would be obscene and offensive to discipline Judge Neely for her statement … about her religious beliefs regarding marriage.” She also said that she knew about Neely’s religious views and did not ask the judge to officiate her marriage because of this.

Furthermore, Pinedale Mayor Bob Jones has described Neely as a “tremendous asset to the community.” Judge Neely, who, as an active 38-year member of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Pinedale, served as a Sunday school teacher, said in an affidavit: “I believe it to be part of my duty as a follower of Jesus Christ to use my talents to serve the community.” She added: “I truly care about all the people whose cases I preside over, and in deciding their cases, I seek not only to ensure that justice is achieved, but also to help those individuals better themselves in the local community.”

In a formal statement by Daniel Blomberg, who is legal counsel for the Becket Fund (which filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Neely), he said: “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.’”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Town of Pinedale