Bogren Derailment: Federal Courts Must Be Assured of Religious Liberty

Bogren Derailment: Federal Courts Must Be Assured of Religious Liberty

June 12, 2019

Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has said from the beginning that he takes his job seriously. And for the last several weeks, he's proven it -- standing up to the D.C. establishment in a one-man crusade to protect America's courts. "The people of Missouri sent me to Washington to fight for their values." And this morning, people of faith in every state are grateful.

To a lot of Republicans, the nomination of Michigan attorney Michael Bogren seemed like a sure thing. He had a lot of experience, the support of his two Democratic home-state senators, and a nod from President Trump. But this was a man up for a lifetime appointment, and that meant the former attorney general of Missouri wasn't going to take anyone's word for it. He decided to dig a little deeper on Bogren's nomination -- and every supporter of natural marriage should be glad he did. What he found was a streak of anti-religious hostility, vicious enough, Hawley believed, to disqualify him.

When Michael Bogren defended East Lansing for booting a Christian family from their farmers' market, he had a choice. He could argue the case humanely -- or he could stoop to the Left's tactics and smear the Tenneses as haters. He chose wrongly, comparing the Catholic couple to the KKK for following their church's teachings on marriage. His supporters tried to dismiss the string of hateful rhetoric. He's an attorney, they argued. He has to represent his clients. "Lawyers have a duty to their clients," Senator Hawley agreed. "I've represented many myself. But a lawyer can give a client a vigorous defense without stooping to personal attacks."

Bogren didn't see it that way. When Hawley gave him an opportunity to walk back his statements, he didn't budge. Instead, the nominee for Western Michigan's district court stood by them. The senator -- and conservatives everywhere -- were flabbergasted. "Tens of millions of Americans believe what the Tennes family believes about marriage, including Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Protestants, and more. We are in a moment in history when the basic human liberty of these citizens to live, work, and otherwise participate in public life is threatened by those who view their beliefs as toxic and unacceptable. The right to religious free exercise enshrined in the First Amendment is the fundamental freedom, and we need judges who will uphold it." This, he insisted, is not acceptable.

For the next several days, Senator Hawley stuck to his guns, using every possible platform to warn Americans about Bogren's case. People underestimated the freshman senator, insisting there was no way he could fight alone and win. But before long, he wasn't alone. FRC and the Conservative Action Project also sounded the alarm, drawing enough attention to eventually get other Republicans on the record. Tuesday, after the pressure finally became too much to ignore, Bogren asked for his name to be withdrawn.

Friends and supporters were angry. Michael Bogren was a good man, they said, whose positions had been "mischaracterized." He may be a great man -- and many people have testified to that effect -- but he made a huge mistake using the Left's playbook to attack Christians. There is no place on the bench or in this administration for those who use the same language as the Southern Poverty Law Center to describe Bible-believing Christians.

There are still people on the Hill who thought the Senate should take a chance on Michael Bogren -- and give him a chance to prove his originalist mettle. But a lifetime appointment on a federal bench is no time to play the odds. If Republicans are wrong, countless Americans could pay for it. At a time when religious freedom is under unprecedented attack, conservatives have to draw a big bright line -- and this attorney crossed it.

"This is the right outcome," Senator Hawley said late Tuesday. "I look forward to getting back to confirming more pro-Constitution judges." Thanks to this administration, who's nominated dozens of qualified men and women, he'll have plenty to choose from.

For more from Senator Hawley on this development, don't miss my exclusive interview on "Washington Watch."

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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