GLEN VIEW, ARKANSAS — A state trooper in a small Arkansas town is making local headlines and generating quite a buzz within his town after he witnessed a group of teenagers breaking into and spray painting cars in a church parking lot while its parishioners were attending a weekend barbecue picnic, and he decided not to engage the young suspects.
Ordinarily a story of a police officer choosing not to stop a crime in progress would be news enough, but the reasoning that Trooper Michael Coharski gave the media is also causing a stir. According to Coharski he decided to let the vandalism play out because the pastor at First Glen View Baptist church had recently written an op-ed for The Glen View Gazette in support of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who gained national notoriety by refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, despite the Supreme Court ruling this past summer that states could no longer discriminate against homosexual couples seeking marriage licenses. Citing the authority of God, Davis refused to issue the licenses, and after a federal circuit judge ordered her to issue them and she didn’t, Davis was put in jail for contempt of court.
Coharski, gay himself and also an atheist, was incensed that Pastor William J. Riccardellia would support an elected official deciding not to do her job, that when “karma handed [him] the gift of seeing some kids breaking into cars outside Pastor Riccardellia’s church” he decided to exercise discretion in how he “approached the suspects.” According to Coharski, he simply watched and made sure the teenagers weren’t planning a terrorist attack, that they weren’t “planting bombs or something” and he radioed ahead to the station, asking the dispatcher to have three cars sent to the three intersections nearest the church, where they could wait for the suspects and make any arrests necessary at the time.
“Look, I’m still sworn to uphold the law, so I wasn’t going to just let the kids go. They needed to be taught not to break into cars,” Coharski told The Political Garbage Chute, “but I asked myself why I have to be the one interceding. Why can’t their God — the same all-powerful God they claim is so powerful we shouldn’t anger him by letting us uppity gays marry other adults — save their blessed Toyota Camry from little Bobby Sherman or little Johnny Redmond,” Coharski asked rhetorically.
Officer Coharski, a veteran of 12 years on the force, said that “If that clerk up in Kentucky can just flat-out refuse to her job, so I can I.” Coharski said that prior to Davis’ escapades in Kentucky he “was obviously in favor of marriage equality” and was “quite happy about the Supreme Court decision” but that he wasn’t planning on changing how he did his job in the relatively conservative town he lived in because “it’s not up to [him] to tell others how to believe” and “everyone’s got a right to live their lives how they want to” but that after seeing Davis shirk her responsibilities and reading Pastor Riccardellia’s op-ed in which he compared Davis to Rosa Parks, that was “the straw that broke this gay camel’s back.”
“I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when, but I knew if I was ever faced with a chance to teach that bigot a lesson, I would. So I just figured that the people getting getting their cars vandalized and broken into surely were believers in God’s almighty power, which totally trumps the law — you know, that pesky thing I’m sworn to uphold,” Trooper Coharski said, continuing, “so I didn’t dare trample on their religious freedoms by doing their God’s job and saving their precious material possessions; so I radioed for backup and gleefully watched as the picnic started wrapping up and Pastor Riccardellia came out and saw his Cadillac had been busted into.”
“I was raised in an atheist home,” Coharski said, “and I was raised to be respectful of religious people as long as they were respectful of others.” Coharski said he was “also taught that atheists are the ones most shielded by the First Amendment because it promises us a life free of religious dogma if we want it.” He said that “people like Davis and the idiots that support her don’t realize what they are advocating when they say public officials should be able to stop doing their job if they think it violates their religious beliefs. Can a soldier not attack the enemy if he’s against war? Can a president simply not decide to declare a state of emergency where a hurricane has hit because he believe’s God’s divine intervention will save the citizens in danger,” Coharski asked rhetorically.
As the interview was wrapping-up, Coharski got reflective. “If we’re going to be an open and tolerant society,” he said, “we have to let the religious people have their opinions, and we have to shield the rest of society from them when they try to legislate based on their religious beliefs. We cannot let this country we live in become a nation of angry subsets of people who think they can stop being humane, mature adults because of their religion. That’s what the First Amendment is all about. But hey, I’m just a guy on the front lines defending your constitutional freedoms, what do I know about anything?”
“As soon as we’re all ready to go back to the time when we may not agree with each other, but we don’t have to treat each other like garbage based on our personal beliefs,” Coharski said at last, “count me first on that bus. Until then, it’s time to show the fundamentalists just how insanely they are acting.”