January 16, 2019
Video of Senator Sasse’s floor speech is available here or by clicking on the image above
Tonight on the Senate floor, Senator Ben Sasse led an effort to reaffirm religious liberty and condemn religious tests for federal officials. The Senate unanimously adopted the resolution, rebuking recent anti-Catholic lines of questioning from Judiciary Committee Democrats.
"This isn’t a Republican belief, this isn’t a Democratic belief, this is an American belief," said Sasse. "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 tests for serving on the federal bench. We should in this body rebuke these anti-Catholic attacks."
In recent weeks, Brian Buescher, the nominee to be the U.S. District Judge for the District of Nebraska, has come under attack for his membership in the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization.
Sasse’s simple resolution affirmed John F. Kennedy’s famous condemnation of anti-Catholic bigotry and held that “it is the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to Federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the No Religious Test clause of the Constitution.”
Sasse’s resolution can be found here. Video of the Senator’s remarks can be found here.
Transcript of Senator Sasse’s speech is below:
I rise today to offer a very basic resolution. I want Senators to unanimously reaffirm our oath of office to a Constitution that rejects religious bigotry. 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.
In America we talk, we read, we argue, we write, we march and we pray, we worship without fear. Because of this fundamental celebration of human dignity and of human freedom, America is big enough to welcome a whole bunch of meaty and messy fights on everything from who you vote for to who you call God.
And, just as the First Amendment prohibits the government from dictating anyone's religious beliefs, so too the Constitution explicitly rejects religious tests for federal office. Our Constitution explicitly rejects religious tests for federal office. This isn't a Republican belief. This isn't a Democratic belief. this is an American belief. But tragically, over the last couple of years some strange things have been happening in this body and we seem to be forgetting some of those basic 101 American civics truths.
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.
In this, we are simply reaffirming with President Kennedy and with countless other Americans across 230 years. Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, and more. We are simply reaffirming the idea that America is big enough for disagreements. Or stated differently, we are saying that we believe the US government is not in the business of trying to resolve debates about heaven and hell. Rather, the business of the U.S. government is to preserve peace and order so that you and your neighbors can precisely wrestle about things like heaven and hell or sports loyalties or dietary preferences.
America can handle principled pluralism and honest, serious debate. This resolution ought to have the support of every single member of this body. After all, each of us took an oath to defend this very idea when we first came here: this is what America is actually about. And so, the text of the Resolution before us, quote:
"Expressing 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.
Whereas throughout the history of the United States, the religious liberty protected by both the First Amendment and the no-religious test clause of the Constitution of the United States has been at the heart of the American experiment and
Whereas in 1960 the Presidential candidacy of John F. Kennedy was met with significant anti-Catholic bigotry.
Whereas then-Senator Kennedy responded to this bigotry with these timeless words, quote: 'For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday again be, a Jew or a Quaker, a Unitarian or a Baptist. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril and
And whereas, The Knights of Columbus constitute the largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the world; whereas the Knights have a proud tradition of standing against the forces of prejudice and oppression such as the Klu Klux Klan and Nazi Germany;
and whereas the Knights are founded on the principals of charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism; and whereas in 2017 the Knights made more than $185 million dollars of charitable contributions and volunteered more than 75,600,000 service hours, now therefore be it resolved: that it is the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates Clause 3 of Article 6 of the Constitution of the United States which establishes that Senators shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support the Constitution and quote "no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" close quote.
Period and full stop.
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.
We should, in this body, rebuke these anti-Catholic attacks. And so, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the consideration of S.Res.19 submitted earlier today.