The Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for the second day in a row yesterday. But we learned even more from the “committee confidential” documents that Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) forced the committee to release yesterday morning than we did from the answers Kavanaugh provided in the hearing. Here’s what we found out:
Kavanaugh Pushed Policies To Allow Religion To Supercede LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Protections
Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked an important question: She noted that Kavanaugh was the point person for George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative, a program that allowed religious organizations to receive taxpayer money and discriminate against who they hire and serve. Feinstein asked about Kavanaugh’s involvement in pushing policies that allowed taxpayer-funded discrimination in hiring against LGBTQ employees. Kavanaugh dodged the question, saying, “I don’t recall the specifics.”
The idea that he doesn’t remember anything about this is highly unlikely. First, allowing taxpayer-funded religious organizations to discriminate in hiring was a key component of the faith-based initiative. Second, Kavanaugh didn’t just happen to be the point person for the faith-based initiative, he asked to be the point person because of his background and interest in the issue. He was invested in this issue and likely hasn’t forgotten its key moments. Third, Feinstein’s question was focused on an email exchange about the Bush administration’s efforts to tamp down a huge controversy that Kavanaugh should have remembered.
In 2001, The Washington Post broke the national story that the White House had made a “‘firm commitment’ to the Salvation Army to issue a regulation” to exempt religious organizations from state and local nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBTQ employees. In return, the Salvation Army agreed to “spending $88,000 to $110,000 a month in its endeavor to boost Bush's” faith-based initiative legislation. The very day the story came out, U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and former U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) wrote to the Bush administration to ask them about this quid pro quo. And the Kavanaugh email shows that Kavanaugh said he had already worked with others in the administration and “mapped out a preliminary strategy” to respond to the letter and that he wanted to set up a meeting to further discuss the issue.
It is less likely that Kavanaugh forgot his leading role and more likely that he didn’t want to admit that he fought to allow taxpayer-funded organizations to use religion to discriminate.
Kavanaugh Believes The Constitution Requires Taxpayer Dollars To Fund Religious Activities
In another email revealed yesterday, Kavanaugh vented about changes made by Republican members of Congress to the administration’s signature faith-based initiative bill – changes that a White House official later said were positive. He said: “this Administration should never be arguing . . . the constitution actually prohibits a neutral funding scheme just because it may happen to fund religiously oriented programs as well as secular programs.”
Instead, he claimed that the Constitution may require the government to fund religious programs like Teen Challenge’s yearlong residential drug treatment program, which challenges the residents to embrace the Christian faith. It is noteworthy that Teen Challenge had made waves just a few weeks before this email, when its executive director, the Rev. John Castellani, testified before Congress that Jews were welcome to participate in their programs and that many even become “completed Jews,” meaning they convert to Christianity. Yet, Brett Kavanaugh argued that the Constitution required the government to fund this program – a program that counts religious conversion as success.
These positions – that the Constitution allows taxpayer-funded organizations to discriminate in the name of religion and that the Constitution requires the government to fund religious social service programs – are particularly dangerous today. The Trump administration is ushering in new regulations and policies that further entrench the use of religion to discriminate and it is poised to rewrite and expand the Bush administration policies for which Kavanaugh advocated nearly twenty years ago.
As we learn more about Kavanaugh’s positions on religion and the Constitution, our fears of his hostility to the separation of church and state only grow. That’s why we need you to contact your senators now and urge them to oppose his confirmation.
(Top Photo: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questions Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Credit: Screenshot from C-SPAN.)