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Ben Sasse led a Senate rebuke of anti-Catholic bigotry and put Democrats in a tough position

Conservative Review

Last month, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Maize Hirono, D-Hawaii, disgraced the United States Senate by leveling bigoted anti-Catholic attacks against judicial nominee Brian Buescher because of his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. Yesterday, the United States Senate rebuked the two Democrats, thanks to the leadership of Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

Harris and Hirono had questioned whether Buescher's membership in the Knights of Columbus would affect his ability to fairly judge cases. Their line of questioning amounted to imposing an unconstitutional religious test for office on Buescher, opposing him because of his membership in what Hirono called an "extreme" religious organization. Sasse introduced a resolution that affirmed "the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the Constitution of the United States."

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sasse called on the Senate to "unanimously reaffirm our oath of office to a Constitution that rejects religious bigotry."

Sasse's speech slammed Harris' and Hirono's actions.

I want to tell you a story. Brian Buescher from my state was recently nominated by the president to be a federal judge for the district of Nebraska. This is an honor for him and for his family. It's a celebration of his brain and his work ethic and his integrity. Oh, by the way, Brian is also Catholic, and he's an active member of the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus, for those of you who don't know, is the largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the world. The Knights, there are 1.6 million members of the organization, raise millions of dollars for charity every year, and they contribute millions of hours of volunteer service. Like a lot of guys back in Nebraska, Brian joined the Knights of Columbus to give back, and also to be involved in a whole bunch of fish fries.

This is not the stuff of headlines, but it is the stuff of basic neighborliness. Well, this is where our story gets weird, because at Brian's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee called the Knights of Columbus an extremist organization. Huh? It got worse. Brian then got a letter from a member of this body asking him if he would resign his membership in the Knights of Columbus if he were confirmed to the federal bench to quote "avoid the appearance of bias." 

This is nuts. We're talking about the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world being called an extremist organization and a nominee for the federal bench being asked if he would resign from this organization so that he could serve without the appearance of bias. The clear implication here was that Brian's religious beliefs and his religious affiliations in this case and affiliation with the Catholic organization that invests countless hours and millions of dollars annually serving special needs kids — Brian was supposedly therefore potentially unfit for federal service.

This is the same kind of garbage that was thrown at a member of this body, John F. Kennedy, 60 years ago, when he was campaigning for the presidency. And so today I've introduced a resolution, a 101-level basic resolution, that simply reaffirms the belief of this body in American religious liberty. The resolution simply says that it is the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee for the federal bench or for any federal office on the basis of his or her Catholic beliefs or membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the No Religious Test clause of the Constitution. That seems obvious on its face.

Sasse asked for unanimous consent to adopt his resolution, and in doing so he laid a trap. Either Hirono or Harris could have objected to this rebuke, forcing a vote. Any of the Democrats could have voted against the resolution rebuking their colleagues. But Wednesday was National Religious Freedom Day. Democrats had to stay silent as Harris, a 2020 contender, and Hirono, a rising star on the Left, were rebuked by the adoption of the resolution. If they had opposed the resolution, they would have been exposed as anti-religious bigots on a day celebrating religious freedom.

As Sasse said:

If a senator has a problem with this resolution, you're probably in the wrong line of work, because this is what America is. This is a super-basic point — no religious tests. If someone has a problem with this resolution, what other parts of the Constitution are you against? Freedom of the press? Women's right to vote? Freedom of speech? This isn't hard. No religious test for serving on the federal bench.

The resolution was unanimously adopted by the Senate. Well done, Sen. Sasse.

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