In American politics, certain issues shouldn’t belong to the Right or the Left, but rather should emerge as right or wrong. The protection of religious freedom is one of them.
In December, Democratic senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California pounced on a federal judicial nominee because of his participation in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. The two senators suggested Brian Buescher “recuse” himself from the group because of its “extreme positions.”
But those “extreme” positions were simply, well, Catholic positions. Buescher came under fire for two issues in particular: abortion and gay marriage. Both of which the Knights of Columbus, in accordance with Catholic Church teaching, opposes.
The religious intolerance caught the attention of a Democrat politician from Hirono’s own state. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard slammed the senators in a Hill piece published Jan. 8 – without naming names.
“While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus,” she wrote.
She called out the Democratic Party for showing “an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today” after previously supporting other Knights of Columbus members such as John F. Kennedy.
“If Buescher is ‘unqualified’ because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus,” Rep. Gabbard argued, “then President John F. Kennedy, and the ‘liberal lion of the Senate’ Ted Kennedy would have been ‘unqualified’ for the same reasons.”
In conclusion, she accused elected politicians “engaging in religion-baiting” of “sacrificing the well-being, peace and harmony of our country to satisfy their own political ambitions for partisan political interests.”
Catholics, and particularly Knights of Columbus, can certainly agree with Gabbard. The fact is the Knights themselves contribute much to the well-being of the United States. Founded in 1882, the Knights of Columbus boasts 1.9 million members worldwide. The group gave $185,652,989 in charitable donations and volunteered 75 million hours in 2017. In addition to its own projects, it also partners with other groups including the Special Olympics, the Global Wheelchair Mission, and Habitat for Humanity.
But all those important efforts didn’t stop Senators Hirono and Harris. The two Democrats worried that the Knights’ stance – which, again, is simply the Catholic Church’s stance – against gay marriage and abortion would influence Buescher.
Sen. Hirono highlighted that the Knights, which Buescher joined in 1993, “has taken a number of extreme positions,” and contributed to California’s Proposition 8 campaign “to ban same-sex marriage.”
“If confirmed, do you intend to end your membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias?” she inquired.
She continued by asking Buescher if he agreed with the Knights on the dangers of contraception as well as its support of cutting Title X funds from clinics that provide abortion or referrals.
Sen. Hirono wanted to know, “what assurances can litigants have that you will deal with reproductive rights and abortion issues fairly and impartially?”
Sen. Harris employed the same line of questioning.
“Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?” Sen. Harris began, before asking if Buescher agreed with Carl Anderson, the head of the Knights, on abortion. Like Hirono, she brought up the Knights’ support of Proposition 8 and their opposition to “marriage equality.” She also added two questions about “same-sex couples” looking to adopt children.
Their comments reminded Rep. Gabbard and conservatives of other religious attacks, such as when Sen. Dianne Feinstein told judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett “the dogma lives loudly within you” in 2017.
But the number of incidents doesn’t stop there. Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, detailed “Trump nominees who have been quizzed about their Christian faith” on Jan. 3 for National Review.
“These inquiries directed to Christians violate the spirit if not the letter of Article VI, which provides that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office under the United States,’” wrote Severino.
That’s because living out one’s faith isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s an American one. And promoting religious freedom, as Rep. Gabbard demonstrates, isn’t for Democrats or Republicans. It’s the right thing – for both – to do.