White House invokes ‘religious freedom’ to defend anti-gay nominee

By : Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders invoked “religious freedom” on Monday to defend one of President Trump’s judicial nominees who has faced criticism for her views, including opposition to same-sex marriage.

Sanders made the remarks in response to a question from The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, which asked if the White House is concerned about criticism in Congress and the media over Amy Barrett. Trump nominated her for a seat on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We certainly support religious freedom and would ask that Congress also support that as well,” Sanders said succinctly.

Although Sanders was responding to a question about Barrett in particular, her response could have applied to any number of Trump nominees with anti-LGBT records. Among them is Jeff Mateer, whom Trump nominated for a federal judgeship in Texas. A CNN report revealed 2015 comments in which Mateer endorsed widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy, opposed same-sex marriage and called transgender kids part of “Satan’s plan.”

The White House briefing room exchange follows a New York Times article published last week about concerns over ties Barrett has to a Christian group called People of Praise, which teaches husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.

As noted in the article, Barrett faced intense questioning over her religious views from Democrats during her confirmation hearing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said, “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.” Social conservatives have interpreted that line as an attack on Barrett’s faith.

Barrett has voiced anti-LGBT views on at least one occasion that would be consistent with Catholic Church dogma. In 2015, Barrett co-signed a letter by the Ethics & Public Policy Center for Catholic Women stating opposition to same-sex marriage just months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality nationwide.

“We give witness that the Church’s teachings — on the dignity of the human person and the value of human life from conception to natural death; on the meaning of human sexuality, the significance of sexual difference and the complementarity of men and women; on openness to life and the gift of motherhood; and on marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman — provide a sure guide to the Christian life, promote women’s flourishing, and serve to protect the poor and most vulnerable among us,” the letter says.

Barrett also has invoked the ire of progressive groups by saying abortion is “always immoral,” coming out against the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act and criticizing U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts for allowing the individual mandate in Obamacare to stand as a tax. Also at issue is an article in which she argued Catholic judges must recuse themselves in death penalty cases because their religious faith conflicts with the law.

Among the groups that have called for the rejection of Barrett’s nomination is the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights.

Shin Inouye, a Leadership Conference spokesperson, said Barrett’s record speaks for itself on why she shouldn’t be allowed on the bench.

“Professor Barrett’s past statements and writings reveal a strong bias against reproductive freedom and LGBT rights,” Inouye said. “Her record shows a dangerous lack of deference to long-standing legal precedent and judicial restraint. She has shown she has a lack of demonstrated commitment to the rule of law and to the Constitution’s protections.”

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