Yesterday, Nebraska Republicans chose Ben Sasse as their nominee in the race to succeed Mike Johanns in the Senate. Sasse rode the endorsement of several tea-party groups and figures — including the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee — to a resounding victory, pushing the establishment candidate, state treasurer Shane Osborn, into third place. Given Nebraska’s crimson-red bent, he will be heavily favored to be the next Senator from the Cornhusker State barring a complete statewide or national meltdown. That prospect makes his views on religious liberty particularly frightening. If it were up to Sasse, government would not be able to interfere with citizens’ religious beliefs under any circumstances. No, this isn’t snark, folks–read it for yourself on Sasse’s campaign site.
Ben Sasse believes that our right to the free exercise of religion is co-equal to our right to life. This is not a negotiable issue. Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances. He will fight for the right of all Americans to act in accordance with their conscience.
I hope I’m misreading what Sasse is saying here. I really am. If it were up to him, anyone could use religious liberty as a cover to justify any number of deplorable practices. For instance, segregationists often turned to religion to justify Jim Crow. The premise was that blacks were the descendants of the “children of Ham” in the Bible, and therefore discrimination against them was justified because they were under a divine curse. As hard as it may be to believe now, this was actually preached in a number of Southern churches well into the 1960s. What makes this really frightening is that Sasse is the president of Midland University, a small liberal arts school south of Omaha. You really have to wonder what kind of example he is setting for his students.
Sasse’s view of religious liberty can’t be dismissed as the rantings of a weapons-grade wingnut from a crimson-red state. His line of reasoning is almost a carbon copy of the logic that prompted the Arizona legislature to pass the horribly discriminatory SB 1062, a law that would have allowed business owners to deny service to LGBT people on religious grounds. While Governor Jan Brewer had the good sense to veto it, the fact this bill could even make it to a governor’s desk in this country should unnerve any fair-minded American.
Although Sasse’s statement is motivated by religious objections to provisions in Obamacare that require businesses to provide coverage for birth control in their health insurance plans, not even the appellant in the highest-profile Supreme Court case challenging that provision goes as far as he does. Hobby Lobby concedes in its brief that government has the power to limit religious believers’ actions if necessary to fulfill “a compelling governmental interest.” It’s the same standard that the Supreme Court used to tell Bob Jones University that it could not bar interracial marriage and interracial dating if it wanted to keep its tax-exempt status. And it’s the same standard that a federal appeals court used to tell Fremont Christian School that it could not deny health care coverage to married women.
ThinkProgress has offered Sasse the opportunity to clarify his views, pointing out that by Sasse’s logic, people could disregard traffic laws if they feared being late to church. So far, he’s remained silent. There is a Democrat running here, though–Dave Domina, a lawyer who helped derail an attempt to fast-track the seizure of land for the Keystone XL pipeline. If there is ever a case for why Democrats need credible candidates in every race–even the ones that don’t look winnable–it’s this one. We cannot allow Sasse’s religious extremism to go unanswered, so donate to Domina here.