Watching Kim Davis, the erstwhile Kentucky County Clerk attempting to thread the needle between free speech, doing her job, and contempt of court, I am reminded of this quote from the socialist leader Eugene Debs.

“I would rather a thousand times be a free soul in jail than to be a sycophant and coward in the streets.”

Debs was speaking in Canton, Ohio, in protest of World War I. Unlike Davis, he understood that free speech is not speech without consequence. Debs knew well he might spend time in prison for exercising his First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction in a case that temporarily narrowed the definition of free speech.

Davis’ political protest, supposedly grounded in a deeply held religious belief in the sanctity of marriage (despite multiple divorces), appears to stop at the jailhouse door.


Kim Davis, Eugene Debs, and First Amendment Consequences