In a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Jan. 16, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) was embracing “the alt-right’s position” by introducing S. Res. 19, a resolution condemning religious tests for federal office and reaffirming Congress’ belief in religious liberty.
“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.
The resolution, which was sponsored by Sasse and which passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, expressed “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.”
The resolution was a sharp rebuke to Hirono and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who questioned federal judicial nominee Brian Buescher last month about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization.
Hirono had asked Buescher whether he would resign his membership to the Knights of Columbus and recuse himself from any cases in which the group had taken a position.
The Democratic senators’ questions seemed to suggest that Buescher’s membership in the Knights of Columbus might disqualify him from federal office. The senators were met with widespread criticism for the questions, including by Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), who said her colleagues were “fomenting religious bigotry.”
Sasse’s resolution cited the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects freedom of religion, and Article VI of the Constitution, which says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
“If a senator has a problem with this resolution, they are probably in the wrong line of work because this is what America is,” Sasse said while introducing the resolution. “This is a super basic point. No religious tests. If someone has a problem with this resolution, what other parts of the Constitution are they against?”
Hirono, however, claimed that S. Res. 19 was addressing “a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“S. Res. 19 is unnecessary because no religious test is being applied to nominees for Federal office,” Hirono said.