Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) grilled a judicial nominee on Wednesday about comments he had made in which he seemed to compare the beliefs of a Catholic family to those of the Ku Klux Klan.
Michael S. Bogren was nominated in early March by President Donald Trump to the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan. His confirmation hearing was on Wednesday.
Hawley, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned Bogren about past comments he had made.
"In litigation representing the city of East Lansing, Michigan, you compared, in your briefs, a Catholic family's adherence to the teachings of their church to the activities of the KKK and the teachings of radical imams," Hawley said. "Do you stand by those statements?"
In the case in question, Bogren had represented East Lansing in a case brought against the city by a farmer named Steve Tennes. Tennes had claimed religious discrimination after East Lansing had banned him from participating in a farmer's market because he refused to let gay couples get married on his farm. Tennes, who is Catholic, said that doing so would violate his religious beliefs.
According to the Lansing State Journal, Bogren said that he felt "very strongly about our position" and that the case was "not about religion."
"The message isn't Catholics need not apply," he is quoted as saying in a Sept. 13, 2017 article. "The message is discriminators need not apply."
Bogren said that he had been trying to demonstrate that "religious beliefs, trying to justify discrimination, if extended to sexual orientation, which the city of East Lansing protects, could be used to justify any other sort of discrimination, whether it be gender or race."
Hawley then read from the website of a branch of the KKK, in which the group tried to cite Christianity as a basis for being against interracial marriage. When prompted by Hawley, Bogren said that "from a legal perspective, there's no distinction" between a Catholic family's views on sexual orientation, and the KKK trying to justify racism.
Hawley cited former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote in the Supreme Court's decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that a government official who had compared the beliefs of the owner of the cake shop to "defenses of slavery and the Holocaust" had shown "impermissible hostility to the sincere religious belief that motivated his objection."
"Your language comparing a Catholic family's beliefs to the KKK, and to the teachings of radical Islam, seems to me to be exactly on point with what Justice Kennedy was saying here," Hawley contended.
He suggested that Bogren would not be able to uphold Supreme Court decisions like the one regarding Masterpiece Cake Shop, based on past comments that he had made.
Bogren said he stood by "those comparisons" that he had made, and that what he had said was just "vigorous advocacy."