Sasse: ‘We Don’t Have Religious Tests’

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Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) attend the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Police Use of Force and Community Relations” in Washington, D.C., June 16, 2020. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)

At this morning’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, considering the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) used his opening remarks to affirm the fundamental right to religious liberty and reject religious tests for judicial nominees.

“Religious liberty is the basic idea that how you worship is none of the government’s business,” Sasse said. “. . . Whether you worship in a mosque or a synagogue or a church, your faith, or your lack of faith, is none of the government’s business. . . . This is the fundamental American belief.”

Sasse went on to condemn the notion that a nominee’s religious beliefs should be a topic of debate or discussion when considering their fitness for public office.

“Contrary to the belief of some activists, religious liberty is not an exception,” he went on. “You don’t need the government’s permission to have religious liberty. Religious liberty is the default assumption of our entire system, and because religious liberty is the fundamental 101 rule in American life, we don’t have religious tests.”

“This committee isn’t in the business of deciding whether the dogma lives too loudly within someone,” Sasse added, referring to when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) questioned Barrett about her Catholicism during the judge’s confirmation hearing for her position on the Seventh Circuit. “This committee isn’t in the business of deciding which religious beliefs are good and which religious beliefs are bad and which religious beliefs are weird.”

Sasse pointed out that Christians believe in a lot of “really weird” things, such as the forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and eternal life. “There are a whole bunch of really, really crazy ideas that are a lot weirder than some Catholics moms giving each other advice about parenting,” he said, commenting on the criticism Barrett has received for her membership in a lay group of Christians called People of Praise.

“And yet there are places where this committee has acted like it’s the job of the committee to delve into people’s religious communities. That’s nuts. That’s a violation of our basic civics,” he said.

Sasse pointed out that religious liberty is fundamentally an American idea, not a political or partisan one. “The good news is, whether you think your religious beliefs might be judged whacky by someone else, it’s none of the business of this committee to delve into any of that in this context,” he said. “. . . Religious liberty is the basic truth and whatever you or I or Judge Barrett believe about God isn’t any of the government’s business. We can all believe in that in common. We should all reaffirm that in common. And that should be on display over course of the next four days in this committee.”

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