Anti-Religion Bias Has No Place In The US Senate

Anti-Religion Bias Has No Place In The US Senate

By Cynthia Zalisky

One would think that after the despicable and disgraceful behavior that certain US Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee displayed during the Justice Kavanaugh hearing, which rocked the confirmation process, the public would have lambasted and criticized them to silence. Instead, they have been emboldened to cause even more outrageous damage in other hearings that could have very serious repercussions to our liberty, especially religious freedom.

US Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono are two perfect examples. They are now challenging the nomination of Brian Buescher in the US District Court for the District of Nebraska because he belongs to the Knights of Columbus, a religious organization that affirms Catholic teachings on marriage, sexuality, and abortion, among other things. Sen. Hirono considers those opinions as “extremist positions.” The Knights of Columbus is a philanthropic social group founded in 1882 and is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization. It has two million members who have raised $1.5 billion for charity in the past decade.

Both senators feel that Buescher should resign entirely from the organization to qualify for the federal judiciary. There are several problems with that. For one, the Constitution explicitly forbids imposing any religious test for public officials, which is what these two senators propose to do for the federal judgeship. According to these two yentas, any person of faith is ineligible for assuming public office. Senator Harris accused the organization of being an all-male society, and then asked if the candidate opposed a woman’s right to choose and marriage equality. That is outrageous. What gives these two “holier than thou” women the right to decide who should be a judge or not, especially if it violates the principles of the Constitution?

The second issue is that it is not the Knights of Columbus that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, etc., but the Catholic Church itself. If a member is ineligible to serve on the federal bench because of the beliefs of the organization, then every Catholic in the United States – and the world for that matter – all 1.2 billion of them – is ineligible for office. Buescher, who has been a member since he was 18 years old, has said that, if confirmed, he would follow established rules regarding conflicts of interest. He has no intention of imposing his beliefs on others. He has said, “I would be bound by precedent of the United States Supreme Court and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and would not be guided by statements made by others.”

The Catholic News Agency was the first to report about the two senators interjecting their anti-Catholic bias in the deliberation: “The leadership of the Knights expressed disappointment that membership in their organization would be viewed as a disqualifier for public office. Our country’s sad history of anti-Catholic bigotry contributed to the founding of the Knights of Columbus, and we are very proud of the many Catholics who overcame that hurdle to contribute greatly to our country We believe that membership in the Knights of Columbus, which helps everyday men put their Catholic faith into action, is worthy of commendation and not something a nominee for public office should be asked to defend.”

I thought we eliminated this sort of religious bigotry when we went through all the hoops when we elected, for the first time, an Irish Catholic – John F. Kennedy – as our president. It is very sad to see this issue rear its ugly head again.

Senators Hirono and Harris are far from being paragons of virtue that one should emulate. Senator Hirono conducted herself so unprofessionally, and insulting to the office that she holds, when, during a press conference, she called on the men in America to “just shut up and step up” when it comes to allegations of sexual assault.

Senator Kamala Harris got slammed for her callous remarks comparing ICE to the KKK. She asked Ronald Vitiello, President Trump’s nominee to lead ICE, whether he shares what she said was the public’s view that ICE is spreading fear and mistrust, in particular among immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America, comparing their behavior to that of the Ku Klux Klan. What is troubling is that Harris is widely rumored to be considering a run for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

But the Senate has done this before. Senate Democrats came dangerously close to crossing a Constitutional line regarding religious faith during the questioning of President Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, for the federal court. Senators grilled her, demanding to know how her faith would influence her decisions from the bench. Barrett’s credentials to hold office are impeccable. She is a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, but because she is a devout Catholic, there was movement to derail her nomination. Senator Diane Feinstein, a Jew who should have known better, said to Barrett, “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” By the way, Senator Hirono was involved in that hearing as well, targeting Ms. Barrett’s faith for ineligibility. Can’t the people of the State of Hawaii find a more qualified person to represent them in the US Senate than that bigot?

This kind of bigoted behavior cannot be tolerated. By implying that one’s faith should be criteria for ineligibility to public office is definitely un-American. We must be concerned that if they get away with denigrating practicing Catholics, they can go after Jews, especially Orthodox Jews. It is unconscionable to allow such anti-religion bias to be promulgated by members of the US Senate and have them get away with it. This dangerous and frankly unconstitutional slope is using extremism as their excuse for intolerance.

We Jews came to America because of freedom of religion as stipulated in the Constitution. We have prospered because of it, and we cannot allow misguided US Senators to take it away from us or anyone else.

Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at czalisky@qjcc.org

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