By now everyone probably knows about Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis and how she “bravely” went to jail in defense of her “religious freedom.” The problem? Not everyone defines “bravery” as refusing to obey a law you swore to uphold. And not everyone defines “religious freedom” as insisting everyone in your vicinity follow the constructs of your faith and yours alone. To hear the internet tell it, Kim Davis is either God’s messenger or an intractable hypocrite (by virtue of her own strays from biblical law) who needs to resign. But what if neither of these are true? What if the real problem is that Kim Davis has a mental illness?
What if, as some psychiatric doctors have suggested, Kim Davis suffers from a psychosis that renders her unable to distinguish fact from fantasy? A 2010 study indicated that schizophrenic patients sought religion more when their symptoms were at their worst. When treatment led to a reduction in the symptoms of schizophrenia: nervousness, delusions, disorganized thinking and behavior, the religious fervor was markedly decreased. A study from 2011 suggests that prominent figures like Abraham and Moses may have also suffered from unrelenting religious delusions. This may also explain why some religious groups counsel against mental health treatment.
Could mental illness explain Kim Davis’ previous willingness to subvert biblical law by being married and divorced multiple times, as well as her current unwillingness to budge from her religious leanings? Is it possible that rather than a political rally for presidential hopefuls like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee—what Kim Davis really needs is medication? Mental illness, for any person, is too serious to exploit for political gain. Might Kim Davis be more worthy of our pity than our censure?
Psychosis is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and a general inability to tell reality from make-believe. With that in mind, a psychotic person may genuinely believe that some people are less deserving of basic rights under the law. They might believe that a vengeful invisible entity has very strong feelings about who is allowed to enter into a secular marriage contract. Such a person might even come to fantasize that they’ve been appointed a singular protector of an individual biblical suggestion—while feeling free to rebuke other biblical rules from the same paragraph. A person who believes such things may not be a martyr to be celebrated, but a psychotic patient in serious need of mental health treatment.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that reasonable accommodation be given to those with disabilities. Title one says that anyone with a history of mental illness can be classified as disabled. Disabled workers who require accommodation to do their jobs properly must have those accommodations provided by the employer—in this case, the American taxpayer. If mental illness is preventing Davis from being able to do her job, the act says that the state of Kentucky has no legal choice but to provide her with the tools she needs to work productively. The question then becomes: what might those accommodations entail?
Does this mean that a mental illness must be diagnosed formally? Probably, though it doesn’t require a Carl Jung to determine that someone who blatantly disregards American law in favor of personal beliefs might be having delusions—especially if those beliefs actually translate into hurtful or anti-social behavior.