EXPRESSING 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; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 9
(Senate - January 16, 2019)

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[Pages S265-S266]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




  EXPRESSING 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

  Mr. SASSE. Mr. President, I rise today to offer a very basic 
resolution. I want Senators to unanimously reaffirm our oath of office 
to a Constitution that explicitly rejects religious bigotry.
  It is useful to regularly remind ourselves that Americans are First 
Amendment people. Each of the five freedoms in the First Amendment--
speech, press, religion, assembly, and protest--defines who we are. In 
America, we talk, we read, we argue, and we march and worship without 
fear. Because of this fundamental celebration of human dignity and 
human freedom, America is big enough to welcome a whole bunch of meaty 
and messy fights on everything from whom you vote for to whom you call 
God.
  Just as the First Amendment prohibits the government from dictating 
anyone's religious beliefs, so, too, the Constitution explicitly 
rejects religious tests for Federal office. Our Constitution explicitly 
rejects religious tests for Federal office. This isn't a Republican 
belief; this isn't a Democratic belief; this is an American belief. 
But, tragically, over the last couple of years, some strange things 
have been happening in this body, and we seem to be forgetting some of 
those basic 101 American civics truths.
  I want to tell you a story. Brian Buescher from my State was recently 
nominated by the President to be a Federal judge for the District of 
Nebraska. This is an honor for him and his family, a celebration of his 
brain, work ethic, and his integrity. By the way, Brian is also 
Catholic and an active member of the Knights of Columbus.
  The Knights of Columbus, for those of you who don't know, is the 
largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the world. The 
Knights' 1.6 million members of the organization raise millions of 
dollars for charity every year, and they contribute millions of hours 
of volunteer service.
  Like a lot of guys back in Nebraska, Brian joined the Knights of 
Columbus to give back and to also be involved in a bunch of fish frys. 
This is not the stuff of headlines, but it is the stuff of basic 
neighborliness.
  This is where the story gets weird because at Brian's confirmation 
hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee a few weeks ago, one of 
my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee called the Knights of Columbus 
``an extremist organization.'' Huh? It got worse. Brian then got a 
letter from a Member of this body asking him if he would resign his 
membership in the Knights of Columbus if he were confirmed to the 
Federal bench to ``avoid the appearance of bias.''
  This is nuts. We are talking about the largest Catholic fraternal 
organization in the world being called an extremist organization and a 
nominee for the Federal bench being asked to resign from this 
organization so that he can serve without the appearance of bias. The 
clear implication here was that Brian's religious beliefs and his 
religious affiliations--in this case, an affiliation with a Catholic 
organization that invests countless hours and millions of dollars 
annually serving special needs kids--Brian was supposedly therefore 
potentially unfit for Federal service. This is the same kind of garbage 
that was thrown at a Member of this body, John F. Kennedy, 60 years ago 
when he was campaigning for the Presidency.
  So today I have introduced a resolution--a 101-level, basic 
resolution--that simply reaffirms the belief of this body in American 
religious liberty. The resolution simply says that it is the sense of 
the Senate that disqualifying a nominee for the Federal bench or any 
Federal office on the basis of his Catholic beliefs or membership in 
the Knights of Columbus violates the no religious test clause of the 
Constitution. It seems obvious on its face.
  In this resolution, we are simply reaffirming with President Kennedy 
and with countless other Americans across 230 years--Protestant, 
Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist and others--
we are simply reaffirming the idea that America is big enough for 
disagreements. Stated differently, we are saying that we believe the 
U.S. Government is not in the business of trying to resolve debates 
about

[[Page S266]]

Heaven and Hell; rather, the business of the U.S. Government is to 
preserve peace and order so that you and your neighbors can precisely 
wrestle about things such as Heaven and Hell or sports loyalties or 
dietary preferences. America can handle principled pluralism and 
honest, serious debate.
  This resolution ought to have the support of every single Member of 
this body. After all, each of us took an oath to defend this very idea 
when we first came here. This is what America is actually about.
  The text of the resolution before us states:

       Expressing 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.
       Whereas, throughout the history of the United States, the 
     religious liberty protected by both the First Amendment and 
     the No Religious Test Clause of the Constitution of the 
     United States has been at the heart of the American 
     experiment;
       Whereas, in 1960, the presidential candidacy of John F. 
     Kennedy was met with significant anti-Catholic bigotry;
       Whereas, then-Senator Kennedy responded to the bigotry with 
     these timeless words: ``For while this year it may be a 
     Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in 
     other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew or a 
     Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. . . . Today I may be the 
     victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of 
     our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national 
     peril.'';
       Whereas the Knights of Columbus (in this preamble referred 
     to as the ``Knights'') constitute the largest Catholic 
     fraternal service organization in the world;
       Whereas the Knights have a proud tradition of standing 
     against the forces of prejudice and oppression, such as the 
     Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Germany;
       Whereas the Knights are founded on the principles of 
     charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism; and
       Whereas, in 2017, the Knights made more than $185,000,000 
     in charitable contributions and volunteered more than 
     75,600,000 service hours: Now, therefore, be it
       Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that 
     disqualifying a nominee to Federal office on the basis of 
     membership in the Knights of Columbus violates clause 3 of 
     article VI of the Constitution of the United States, which 
     establishes that Senators ``shall be bound by Oath or 
     Affirmation, to support th[e] Constitution'' and ``no 
     religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to 
     any Office or public Trust under the United States.''

  Period. Full stop.
  If a Senator has a problem with this resolution, they are probably in 
the wrong line of work because this is what America is. 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? 
Freedom of the press? Women's right to vote? Freedom of speech?
  This isn't hard. There are no religious tests for serving on the 
Federal bench. We in this body should rebuke these anti-Catholic 
attacks.
  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the 
consideration of S. Res. 19, submitted earlier today.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report the resolution by title.
  The bill clerk read as follows:

       A resolution (S. Res. 19) expressing 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.

  There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the 
resolution.
  Mr. SASSE. I ask unanimous consent that the resolution be agreed to, 
the preamble be agreed to, and that the motions to reconsider be 
considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or 
debate.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  The resolution (S. Res. 19) was agreed to.
  The preamble was agreed to.
  (The resolution, with its preamble, is printed in today's Record 
under ``Submitted Resolutions.'')
  Mr. SASSE. I thank the Members of this body for reaffirming basic 
constitutional 101 stuff today. I will report back to Brian Buescher, 
the nominee for the Federal Bench for the District of Nebraska, that he 
can ignore those questions he received about whether he would resign 
his membership in the Knights of Columbus before this body proceeds to 
vote on his confirmation.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority leader.

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