Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who went to jail this month after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, on Friday was presented with the Cost of Discipleship Award at the Values Voter Summit.
Although everyone from leading GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to Sen. John McCain addressed the conservative convention, held annually in Washington, D.C., Davis was the star, providing a face for a frequently expressed conviction throughout the weekend: that conservative Christians are being persecuted in the United States. Even before she took the stage, politicians and advocates often referenced her as they sought to prove that American Christians are under attack.
“Just a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Kim in a Kentucky jailhouse,” Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz told the crowd. “Now if six months or a year ago I had come and said that a Christian woman was going to be thrown in jail for living her faith, the media would have dismissed me as a nutcase. But that’s where we are today.”
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“That’s right!” someone yelled from the crowd of about 2,600 social conservatives.
Christians made up 70 percent of the U.S. population in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center, with evangelicals making up 25 percent of that number. A majority of white evangelicals that year saw themselves as the group most discriminated against in the United States—more than Blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims, according to another Pew Research Center poll.
The facts don’t quite match up. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 3,843 religious-based complaints in 2012. Of those cases, 784—or 20 percent— involved discrimination against Muslims, compared with 290 cases involving Protestants and 219 involving Catholics. Another Pew study found that 61 percent of Americans were less likely to support a candidate if he or she does not believe in God, meaning people of faith have a significant advantage in the political arena.
Still, a spirit of persecution reigned at the Values Voter Summit. The Benham brothers, who lost their HGTV show after speaking publicly about the “homosexual agenda,” celebrated a group of Christians who made headlines over the past year (and paid fines) for discriminating against same-sex couples.
“We believe we have a religious liberty issue in America today,” Jason Benham told the crowd. “But it’s much more like a Christian liberty issue that’s happening in America today. I haven’t seen a Muslim baker being sued yet. I haven’t seen the imams and the clerics getting pressure to marry a gay couple.”
The audience clapped as practically an entire anti-gay wedding industry took the stage, including Melissa and Aaron Klein (Oregon bakers who refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple), Richard and Betty Odgaard (an Iowa couple who refused to allow two gay men to marry in their wedding venue), and Barronelle Stutzman (a Washington florist who refused to make flowers for a gay couple).
But Davis was the most beloved character in the repeated story of Christian persecution.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, after comparing Davis to Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr., called on elected officials to follow her lead.
“Kim Davis should not be an outlier,” Perkins told the crowd. “There should be Kim Davises in every elected office at every level that say no to judges who redefine the revealed truth of God.”
Davis was greeted by a nearly minute-long standing ovation. She looked out over the crowd and breathed deeply as someone handed her a bouquet of flowers.
“I feel so very undeserving,” she said, crying. “I have discovered through all of this that his grace is truly sufficient in all things.”
“I am only one,” she said, and then spreading her arms and raising her voice, she yelled, “But we are many!”
The embattled crowd greeted Davis’ cry with thunderous applause.