An inquiry concerning the Honorable Ruth Neely
What's at stake
- The freedom to live according to one’s faith and to honor God in one’s work
- Preventing the government from driving people from public office because of their religious beliefs
- The freedom to communicate one’s religious beliefs about marriage without fear of government punishment
Judge Neely has served as the municipal judge in Pinedale, Wyoming, for over 21 years. In that position, she hears cases that involve traffic and parking violations, animal-control issues, and miscellaneous criminal misdemeanors like public intoxication and shoplifting. Judge Neely has no authority to solemnize marriages as a municipal judge.
Judge Neely has also served as a part-time circuit court magistrate for approximately 14 years. In that capacity, she has the authority to do things like administer oaths, issue subpoenas, conduct bond hearings, issue warrants, and solemnize marriages. Although Judge Neely “may perform the ceremony of marriage” as a magistrate, she has no legal obligation or duty to do so.
In December 2014, a reporter in Pinedale who suspected that Judge Neely’s religious beliefs prevented her from serving as a celebrant for same-sex marriages asked her whether she was “excited” to perform same-sex weddings. In response, Judge Neely stated that she believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and therefore, she would be unable to perform same-sex weddings. A few days later, an article appeared in the Sublette Examiner quoting Judge Neely as saying that, because of her religious beliefs, she would “not be able to do” same-sex marriages and that she had not “been asked to perform” one.
In March 2015, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics filed a complaint against her, alleging judicial misconduct and seeking her removal from both judicial positions. The commission claimed that by merely communicating her religious beliefs about marriage and her inability to serve as a celebrant for same-sex marriages, Judge Neely failed to follow the law and manifested bias and prejudice.
The commission brought these charges even though Judge Neely has never been asked to solemnize a same-sex marriage, no law requires magistrates to serve as a celebrant for any marriage, magistrates may decline to perform weddings for a host of secular reasons, and Judge Neely has an unblemished record of integrity, impartiality, and scrupulous compliance with the law in her more than 21 years of judicial service.
In February 2016, the commission filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court a recommendation that Judge Neely be removed from office. The commission recommended that Judge Neely be removed not only from her position as a part-time circuit court magistrate, the position in which she may but need not perform weddings, but also from serving as a municipal judge, a job in which she is not even permitted to solemnize marriages.
In April 2016, Judge Neely filed a petition with the Wyoming Supreme Court objecting to the commission’s recommendation. She also filed a brief explaining that it would violate the United States and Wyoming Constitutions to remove her from office for stating her religious beliefs about marriage.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom represents Judge Neely. We are defending her freedom to live consistent with her deeply held religious beliefs about marriage. It is a true honor and privilege to stand beside Judge Neely and defend her constitutional freedoms.