Politics

Religion Will Dominate This Judicial Confirmation Hearing

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent

Religion is again poised to feature prominently in a judicial confirmation hearing.

CNN reports that President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Jeff Mateer, made a range of inflammatory comments in a speech delivered in 2015 concerning the LGBT community. In the course of his remarks, Mateer referred to transgender children as evidence of “Satan’s plan,” and expressed concern that the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision — which legalized same-sex marriage — would establish the reign of depravity over the U.S.

Mateer, an evangelical Christian, is currently the first assistant Attorney General of Texas. Prior to entering government service, he practiced at the First Liberty Institute, a public interest law group which litigates religious liberty cases. His nomination to the district court in Texas was announced on Sept. 7.

The speech, called “The Church and Homosexuality,” was given to a group of pastors in Texas. His remarks concerned strategic litigation efforts orchestrated by pro-LGBT groups, which Mateer claims will inhibit religious believers from practicing their faith.

“There’s a clash of absolutes,” he said, in reference to conflict between the Christian and LGBT political lobbies. “Make no question about that.”

“As bad as you think it is, it’s worse — trust me,” he later said of the conflict. “There’s nothing that’s sacred anymore.”

Mateer went on to discuss the various new forms of sexual expression as they have appeared in cases around the country, cumulative evidence, he says, that “debauchery rules.”

“It’s just like — you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community,'” he said. “Oh yes it is. We’re back to that time where debauchery rules.”

He later made reference to a case involving a transgender first grader who sued their local public school after administrators refused to allow them to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

“Now, I submit to you, [as] a parent of three children who are now young adults, a first grader really knows what their sexual identity [is]?” he asked. “I mean it just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.”

Towards the end of his remarks, Mateer said he did not mean to condemn homosexuals, but criticize Christian churches for failing to adhere to biblical teachings in a variety of different pastoral areas related to sex and marriage, including adultery and divorce. He seemed to suggest this failure precipitated LGBT activism that has gone on to great social and political success.

The speech, formerly posted in its entirety on Vimeo by a user named Rochelle Ruth Schafer was apparently deleted after this story was published.

Democrats are sure to seize on the comments as proof Mateer would not be impartial should matters relating to gay rights or public accommodations arise in his court. This matter, however, is a delicate one, as Mateer is expressing religious views in his address, and the Constitution strictly precludes the imposition of a religious test on candidates for federal office.

The tension occasioned by this provision appeared in early September during a confirmation hearing for another judicial nominee, Notre Dame Law School Professor Amy Coney Barrett. Trump tapped Barrett for a seat on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May.

Barrett, a Roman Catholic, has written and spoken extensively about the role of faith in public life, as well as the ethical obligations of devoutly religious judges. During her hearing, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee falsely asserted that Barrett, in her academic writings, endorsed the supremacy of faith over case law where the two conflict. The charge, though erroneous, arises from misconstrued comments far less controversial than Mateer’s.

He is also likely to have a more difficult time than Barrett escaping allegations that he would impose his religious views from the bench. Where Barrett has consistently affirmed the duty of judges to follow the law independent of their personal convictions, and wrote extensively about the value of precedent in a constitutional system, Mateer appeared to suggest that the courts are the primary landscape on which a sustained attack on his religion is being waged, and expressly equates one side in the conflict with evil.

He also explicitly rejected the view that religious liberty claims must always yield to anti-discrimination claims where such conflicts occur during his 2015 speech. Even in the absence of the other controversial statements, this position alone is sufficient to elicit vigorous opposition from Democrats.

A confirmation hearing for Mateer has not yet been scheduled. He did not answer TheDCNF’s inquiries by press time.

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