Democratic Congresswoman Condemns Religious Bigotry, Standing up to Her Party in a Rare Act of Courage

David Closson is a research fellow for religious freedom and biblical worldview at Family Research Council. This article appeared on on February 2, 2019.

In a surprising op-ed, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who has announced she is running for President, called out fellow Democrats for fomenting “religious bigotry” during the confirmation of some of President Trump’s recent judicial nominees. 

Although she did not call them out by name, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) were undoubtedly in Gabbard’s crossfire, as both Democrat Senators recently (and repeatedly) asked Brian Buescher, a nominee to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, about his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, a faith-based, service organization that supports the Catholic Church’s historical teaching on marriage, abortion, and human sexuality. 

<>With around two million members, the group is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization and is known for their philanthropic and charitable efforts. From 2007-2017, the Knights donated $1.55 billion to charity.

In her op-ed, Gabbard argued that disqualifying a nominee for their “affiliation with the Knights of Columbus” is a form of “religious bigotry.” While Gabbard’s office claimed the piece was not directed at Hirono, the senator’s recent attacks on Buescher fit the intolerance Gabbard condemns. 

In fact, in questions submitted to the nominee on December 5, 2018, Hirono explicitly asked Buescher if he would terminate his membership in the Knights of Columbus, an organization the forty-three year old nominee joined when he was 18. Hirono alleged that the Knights of Columbus have taken “a number of extreme positions” on social issues including abortion and marriage—these “positions” being none other than the 2,000 year old historic Christian positions on these issues.

Hirono’s questioning mirrored Senator Kamala Harris who also pointedly askedBuescher whether he agreed with the pro-life views of Carl Anderson, the chief executive officer of the Knights of Columbus. 

Thus, though unnamed in Gabbard’s article, Hirono and Harris fit the description of “elected leaders engaging in religion-baiting” for their thinly-veiled attacks on Buescher’s Catholic faith. In the piece Gabbard insightfully notes that “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.”

Gabbard goes on to compare recent attacks on Buescher’s faith to comments made by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) in 2017 when she referred to then-U.S. Circuit Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s faith. At the time Feinstein feared “the dogma lives loudly within you,” and implied that Barrett’s adherence to her faith was “a concern.”

Feinstein was roundly criticized for the remarks as a violation of Article VI of the Constitution which forbids a religious test for public office. Even the New York Times called the remarks “symptomatic of a repressive turn among Western liberals.”

Carl Anderson also made the connection between Feinstein and Hirono and Harris, noting the religious test being applied by them. 

Tulsi Gabbard ought to be commended for her willingness to call out religious bigotry in her own party. It would be great if she would apply her perspective across the board, however. She undermines her own argument with her continued co-sponsorship of the radical, so-called Equality Act that would severely undermine religious freedom

Incredibly, the Equality Act explicitly “prohibits the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 from providing a claim, defense, or basis for challenging” protections based on highly disputed views of “gender” and human sexuality. This means that those with religious objections to same-sex marriage or transgenderism could be forced to affirm practices and beliefs that conflict with their deeply held religious convictions. It provides “equal” treatment—except for people of faith.

As someone who once volunteered for a twelve-month tour in Iraq to serve in a field medical unit as a specialist in a combat zone, Tulsi Gabbard is not afraid to fight for her values. Her recent defense of religious liberty as a revered American ideal amid intolerant rhetoric from prominent members of her own party is admirable and courageous.

However, by continuing to endorse the Equality Act she undermines her own credibility on the issue. If Gabbard sincerely supports religious liberty for all Americans, she should withdraw her sponsorship and reject a bill that would disastrously affect the lives of millions of Americans whose religious beliefs differ from the left on issues related to marriage and human sexuality. Leaders must apply religious liberty equally in all situations, and that is something she has yet to do.

As she runs for her party’s nomination in what will most assuredly be a crowded field of candidates, bucking party leadership on the Equality Act and taking a stand on religious liberty would truly distinguish Gabbard. She can demonstrate to the majority of American voters who hold conservative values— and those that, regardless of their personal views, believe that the government shouldn’t discriminate against individuals because of their belief in natural marriage— that there are still some Democratic leaders who have not capitulated to the loudest voices on the far left.