Hawaii Congresswomen Clash Over ‘Religious Bigotry’ in Questioning of Judicial Nominee

By Emily Ward | January 9, 2019 | 4:55pm EST
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
(Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) -- Two U.S. congresswomen, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), have exchanged barbs over Hirono’s questioning of Republican U.S. District Court nominee Brian Buescher of Nebraska, in which Hirono targeted Buescher’s affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization founded in 1882.

On Tuesday, The Hill published a pointed op-ed by Rep. Gabbard entitled, “Elected leaders who weaponize religion are playing a dangerous game,” in which the Hawaii representative seemed to accuse her liberal colleague of religious bigotry.

In response, Sen. Hirono’s spokesperson called Rep. Gabbard’s opinion “misguided.”

Rep. Gabbard, who personally opposes Buescher’s nomination, wrote:

House Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).  (Getty Images) 

“I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus. If Buescher is ‘unqualified’ because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the ‘liberal lion of the Senate’ Ted Kennedy would have been ‘unqualified’ for the same reasons.”

Rep. Gabbard cited Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office.”

While Rep. Gabbard did not mention Sen. Hirono by name in her op-ed, she clearly referenced a list of questions Sen. Hirono submitted to Buescher, in which Sen. Hirono asked whether the judge intended to end his membership with the Knights of Columbus “to avoid any appearance of bias,” and whether he would recuse himself from “all cases in which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position.”

Rep. Gabbard wrote that “no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office.”

In response to the op-ed, Sen. Hirono’s spokesperson Will Dempster issued a statement to Hawaii News Now:

“Senator Hirono, asks all judicial nominees – particularly those who have expressed very strong personal ideological views in conflict with Supreme Court precedent – if they can be fair. She asked Mr. Buescher, who has a clear record of anti-choice activism, whether he could separate his personal beliefs from decisions he would make if confirmed for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench.

“Over the past two years, the Senator has been attacked by right-wing ideologues for her examination of Donald Trump’s ideologically-driven nominees to the courts. It is unfortunate that Congresswoman Gabbard based her misguided opinion on the far-right wing manipulation of these straightforward questions.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)  (Getty Images)

Several political leaders have denounced both Sen. Hirono and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who also questioned Buescher about his involvement with the Knights of Columbus.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote, “Alarming questions from Senate Democrats, showing they are getting more and more comfortable with imposing religious tests on Federal judicial nominees.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote, “Hopefully, in the eyes of Democrats you are not disqualified to be a judge because of your religious affiliations and beliefs.”

“Will not tolerate disqualifying judicial nominees because of charitable works and personal religious opinions,” Sen. Graham added.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) tweeted, “Rep. @TulsiGabbard is 100% right: this is religious bigotry, plain and simple. Tulsi deserves major credit for speaking out about those in her own party who would bar Catholics from public service because of their religious beliefs.”

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League said the two senators were “engaged in selective religious profiling and sexism.”

Carl A. Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, reminded his fellow Knights of Americans’ constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)  (Getty Images)

“We must remember that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution forbids a religious test for public office, and the First Amendment guarantees our free exercise of religion, freedom of association and freedom of speech,” Anderson wrote. “Any suggestion that the Order’s adherence to the beliefs of the Catholic Church makes a Brother Knight unfit for public office blatantly violates those constitutional guarantees.”

Ken Blackwell, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, said the senators’ line of questioning was “the kind of thuggish behavior we expect from third world dictators, not United States Senators.”

Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, called the questions part of “an ongoing attack from the extremist left of the Democratic Party to silence people of faith and run them out of engaging in public service based on their religious beliefs.”

Rev. Eugene F. Rivers, director of the Seymour Institute and a civil rights activist, said the Black Church was “very concerned because we know that when elected leaders attack Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus,” then “all people of faith are at risk.”


Rep. Gabbard, who has hinted at a possible 2020 presidential bid, concluded her op-ed by calling on Americans to denounce religious bigotry “no matter where it comes from.”

“If we can all agree that we do not want prejudice and bigotry to rule our nation, then we must stand united to denounce it whenever it raises its ugly head,” she wrote.

“Elected leaders engaging in religion-baiting are playing with fire. They are sacrificing the well-being, peace and harmony of our country to satisfy their own political ambitions for partisan political interests.”

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