Oregon judge who refused gay marriages says freedom of religion violated

By Shelby Sebens

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - An Oregon judge, who is under an ethics investigation for refusing to perform gay marriages and over complaints including hanging a painting of Adolf Hitler in the courthouse, denies any wrongdoing, the judge's spokesman said on Thursday.

Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance Day has launched a legal defense and filed a response to the complaints under review by a state judicial commission, denying 13 counts of violating judicial code.

Day said the ethics review violates his "freedom of speech, association and free exercise of religion guaranteed under the U.S. and Oregon constitutions," according to a written statement by his spokesman, Patrick Korten.

Day is under review for screening wedding applicants for gay couples, refusing to perform the marriages and referring the couples to other judges.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in June legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, but some elected clerks and lower-court judges have opposed the ruling citing religious beliefs, including a Kentucky county clerk who was released from jail on Tuesday after refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

In a response filed by Judge Day's attorneys on Tuesday, he said the painting of Hitler was part of a memorabilia display put up last summer to honor a local doctor who served in the war.

"Judge Day was never informed that wall hangings to be displayed in the Marion County Courthouse had to be pre-approved for display by anyone," the response said.

Day is also accused of putting up wall hangings in his assistant's area despite her not wanting them there. She removed them when he left on vacation, but upon his return he said he was a "benevolent dictator" and she "works at his pleasure." Day said in his response that he was only joking.

Day has also denied claims that he made some veterans in the Veteran's Treatment Court read books and watch videos that worsened their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission has approved Day's request to set up a legal defense fund to raise money, and he faces a hearing Nov. 9. If found guilty the case would go to the Oregon Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Eric Beech)

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