Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) doubled down on anti-Catholic statements she made last week about the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s humanitarian group, by lashing out at the group’s defenders, including Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) whom she accused of “embracing the alt-right position” for criticizing her lack of concern for religious freedom.
Sen. Hirono and her colleague Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) have been heaped with scorn after accusing a Trump administration nominee of embracing “extremism” because he belonged to the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization whose most “extreme” activity is organizing pancake breakfasts.
“The Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions. For example, it was reportedly one of the top contributors to California’s Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage,” Hirono asked Brian Buescher, Trump’s nominee for an open U.S. Federal District Court position, in a series of written questions. “If confirmed, do you intend to end your membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias?”
Hirono and Harris were denounced by both Democratic colleagues and Republican opponents alike, and particularly by Sasse, who moved to have Hirono and Harris officially rebuked for their clear anti-Catholic bias.
Sasse gave a “fiery” floor speech in which he defended traditional notions of religious freedom as codified in the First Amendment and took both Hirono and Harris to task for instituting de facto “religious tests” for judicial nominees.
Introducing a strongly worded resolution confirming the Senate’s commitment to principles of freedom, Sasse noted: “I want senators to unanimously reaffirm our oath of office to a Constitution that rejects religious bigotry,” Sasse said. “It is useful to regularly remind ourselves that Americans are a First Amendment people. Each of the five freedoms in the First Amendment: speech, press, religion, assembly, protest, they define who we are.”
“This is nuts,” Sasse continued. “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 was that Brian’s religious beliefs and his religious affiliations, in this case an affiliation with the Catholic organization that invests countless hours and millions of dollars annually serving special needs kids,” made him “potentially unfit for federal service,” Sasse concluded.
On Saturday, Hirono responded, accusing Sasse of embracing the “alt-right.”
“If my colleague, the junior Senator from Nebraska, wants to embrace the alt-right’s position by offering this resolution, that is his business,” Hirono said.
Sasse is, most certainly, far from “alt-right.” In fact, he’s been a clearly outspoken critic of the alt-right and far right groups while in the senate. He’s often used his social media accounts to encourage the president to distance himself from questionable right-wing figures and works hard to define conservatism in an era where conservatism often has no definition. Certainly the notion that religious freedom is a core value of the Bill of Rights and one of America’s foundational principles isn’t in dispute.
Freedom of religion and freedom from undergoing religious tests to hold public office are axiomatic.