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Is the Swamp Trying to Sneak an Anti-Catholic Bigot onto the Federal Bench? Sen. Josh Hawley Has Some Questions

The left's long march to destroy the concept of religious liberty continues apace in America. On Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) blasted Michael Bogren, President Trump's nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, for his statements comparing Catholics who believe in traditional marriage to the Ku Klux Klan and radical Islam.

Bogren, a lawyer for East Lansing, Mich., made what appear to be bigoted statements in briefs on behalf of the city, arguing that a Catholic apple orchard owner could be denied a vendor's license to sell his fruit at a local farmer's market because he refuses to allow gay weddings to be performed on his property.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney denied East Lansing's request to dismiss the 2017 discrimination lawsuit brought by Country Mill Farms owner Steve Tennes, ruling that the plaintiffs "have pled sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for violations of the Michigan Constitution." The city did not appeal the ruling.

Sen. Hawley, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and served as attorney general of Missouri, called Bogren out for the anti-Catholic bigotry in the briefs.

"I have some concerns about your views on the First Amendment," Hawley began during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider Bogren's nomination. "In litigation representing the city of East Lansing, Michigan, you compared, in your briefs, a Catholic family's adherence to the teachings of their church to the activities of the KKK and the teachings of radical imams."

Hawley quoted one of the briefs written by the nominee: "The other side of that discriminatory coin is found on the website of the White Camelia Knights of the KKK, which is a Texas-based KKK organization. The group states the client has always taken a strong stance against interracial marriage and an adherent of that branch of Christianity who ran a business similar to the Plaintiffs would not be able to invoke the free exercise clause to avoid the anti-discrimination provision."

At that point, Bogren began digging himself a mighty big hole.

"The point I was trying to make," he said, "was that religious beliefs trying to justify discrimination, if extended to sexual orientation, which the city of East Lansing protects, could be used to try to justify any other sort of discrimination, whether it be gender or race. That was the comparison I was making."

"No," Hawley shot back. "You specifically compared this Catholic family's adherence to their religious beliefs with the views of the KKK," suggesting that their views were equivalent.

Bogren continued to dig, arguing that he was "trying to make a point about what the next step would be and how one would not be able to have to draw a principled distinction."

Hawley, in his brilliant interrogation of Bogren, exposed the insidious bigotry inherent among left-wing elitists, who control nearly every segment of our government and culture.

Instead of disavowing his statements, the nominee tried to double down on the comparison. "If one can justify sexual orientation discrimination—"

Hawley cut him off: "So you think those things are equivalent. You think that the Catholic families pointing to the teachings of their church is equivalent to a KKK member invoking Christianity."

"From a legal perspective..." Bogren began.

"Can you just say no?" Hawley demanded.

In a shocking moment of honesty, the nominee confessed: "There is no distinction."

Hawley reminded Bogren of the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with religious animus toward Christian baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, citing his sincerely held religious beliefs. Hawley noted that Bogren would be "obliged to uphold" the ruling if he were confirmed.

Justice Kennedy wrote that comparisons of John Phillips' refusal to use his artistic talents to celebrate a wedding to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust "demonstrated impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious belief that motivated his objection."

"Your language comparing a Catholic family's beliefs to the KKK and to the teachings of radical Islam seems to me to be exactly on point with what Justice Kennedy is saying here," Hawley said. "Don't you think that's a problem?"

"I represent clients, not causes. This is not ideological—"

Hawley reminded Bogren that he had made personal statements on the topic. "You said these are discriminators, these people should not be allowed to participate in the market in question, right?"

He then gave the nominee the opportunity to disavow the statements: "I tell you what, you can clear this up today. Why don't you go on the record right now and say that this kind of rhetoric that demonstrates anti-religious animus is wrong and you disagree with it." Bogren refused.

Instead, he tried to wriggle out of the tenuous position he'd found himself in — that is, being out of step with a Supreme Court ruling while refusing to disavow his animus toward the religious beliefs of the orchard owner.

Hawley tried again: "Do you stand by those comments that you wrote in your brief, that you reiterated multiple times? Do you stand by those comparisons, yes or no?"

"I stand by those comparisons," he again admitted.

"Justice Kennedy is talking about people like you, is he not?" Hawley asserted.

Bogren the tried to back peddle on his confession, saying that he was merely advocating for his client.

"But you just affirmed that this is what you think!" Hawley exclaimed. He again quoted Justice Kennedy, who wrote that "the government demonstrated impermissible hostility toward religious believers when they questioned the sincerity of their beliefs."

"You do exactly the same thing in your brief in the East Lansing case. That's a problem, don't you think?" the senator queried.

Bogren denied questioning the sincerity of the religious beliefs of the Catholic plaintiff.

"You certainly do! You say that they apply the teaching of their faith 'quite selectively.' That's your phrase, is it not? Did you write those words?"

Bogren confessed that he did, but said that he was not questioning the sincerity of the beliefs. "Not at all!"

"What are you trying to say there, that they're hypocrites?"

"I believe that they sincerely believe the position that they take," the nominee countered.

Bogren claimed not to have understood the question when Hawley asked what he meant when he said their religious beliefs were selectively applied.

"Oh, I think you understand it, you just don't want to answer it," Hawley charged. "All I can tell you is I am shocked by the statement that I read in your briefs. I am shocked by this kind of language. I am particularly shocked by it in light of the Supreme Court's clear teaching that this kind of animus and these kinds of hateful comparisons are out of step with the protections of our law and are not permissible."

"The Masterpiece cake case turned on these issues. It turned on this kind of animus. The fact that you stand by these comments is extraordinary to me," Hawley concluded.

The left—and it appears that Trump's nominee to the federal bench may share this view—believes that religious objections to the LGBTQ agenda and belief in the traditional, biblical view of marriage is every bit as evil as putting on a KKK hood and joining in a lynching. The cultural elites in the media and the entertainment industry have used their considerable influence in recent years to paint those of us with traditional religious beliefs as monsters who have no place in civil society. Our beliefs, in their view, are so beyond the pale that the mere utterance of them is cause for sanction, firing, bullying, and even violence. If they have their way — and there is every indication that they will succeed — Christians and other people of faith will be marginalized and persecuted beyond anything heretofore seen in America. The First Amendment will be but one casualty trampled under the feet of the sexual revolutionaries.

Bogren makes a fair point that the views he's advocating on behalf of his client do not necessarily represent his personal beliefs, however, as the attorney on the case, he had broad leeway in choosing the language used to defend the city. Defending East Lansing's non-discrimination law because it's his job is one thing. Comparing Catholics to the KKK is quite another and supports Hawley's assertion that Bogren is hostile to certain religious beliefs.

Hawley, according to Detroit News, says he's leaning toward voting no on Bogren's nomination, saying his views are "troubling" and "offensive."

"I'm certainly open to hearing new information, but I wasn't very happy with what I heard today. His position is really incredible. And he didn't do himself any favors with his responses today, so I was really disappointed," Hawley said. "He was all over the map, but he basically would not acknowledge that he saw any issue with his statements, which are exactly what a majority of the United States Supreme Court has said government officials cannot engage in."

"He could say he was wrong, that he regrets saying those things — regrets the animus," said Hawley when asked if there was anything Bogren could do to win his favor.

"To compare a Catholic family, following the teachings of their church, as akin to white supremacists and radical minds who want to strip women of all rights, I mean, that's just ridiculous. It's beyond ridiculous. It's offensive," Hawley said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he "understood" Bogren's explanation. "I'll look at his assertions to the court, but I understood where he was coming from." He added that he does not believe Bogren's nomination is in jeopardy. "Not based on what I've heard," he said.

Given the admissions Bogren made in the hearing and the animus he's demonstrated in legal briefs and personal statements, President Trump should withdraw his nomination to the federal bench immediately. Religious liberty is under attack in America and many of these battles will be fought — and won or lost — in the federal courts. Every nominee to the bench ought to be vetted thoroughly to ensure their view of the Constitution does not seek to strip religious adherents of their freedom. Whoever advised Trump on this nominee either didn't do his homework or is working behind the scenes to subvert religious liberty.

God bless Sen. Hawley for raising this important issue in the hearing. The Judiciary Committee needs to follow his lead in vetting Bogren and other nominees. Moreover, senators on the Judiciary Committee must refuse to advance nominees who cannot articulate a full-throated defense of the First Amendment — one that includes robust religious liberty protections.

Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard