Nebraska Senate Nominee Says Religious Beliefs Can Justify Breaking Any Law
“[O]ur right to the free exercise of religion is co-equal to our right to life,” according to the campaign website of Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who won his party’s nomination to the United States Senate on Tuesday. Nebraska is a solid red state that preferred Romney to Obama by a massive 21 point margin in 2012, so Sasse is now all but certain to succeed retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R) this November. If he does, Sasse promises to promote an almost anarchistic vision of religious liberty as a member of the Senate. According to Sasse’s website, “[g]overnment cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances.”
Here’s a screenshot of the relevant part of Sasse’s website:
The question of when religious belief exempts believers from following the law is at the forefront of our national debate right now, with the Supreme Court poised to decide whether religious business owners can refuse to offer birth control coverage as part of their employer-provided health plans, even when doing so would violate federal law. Yet, even the plaintiffs before the Supreme Court acknowledge that religious liberty is not an absolute right to violate any law at any time. As the crafting chain Hobby Lobby says in its brief to the justices, the government may limit religious believers actions when it uses “‘the least restrictive means of furthering’ a ‘compelling governmental interest.’” This is the standard set by federal law, although there is some uncertainty about how the justices will interpret this legal standard in its Hobby Lobby decision.
Sasse, however, apparently believes that this law does not go far enough, even if the Court gives Hobby Lobby everything it is asking for. His proposed rule — that government cannot require someone to act counter to their religious beliefs “under any circumstances” — would mean that literally any law could be ignored by someone who held a religious belief counter to that law. According to National Geographic, for example, “[h]undreds, if not thousands, of women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family ‘honor,’” and while this practice “goes across cultures and across religions,” some of the perpetrators of honor killings are motivated by their religious faith. Under Sasse’s formulation of religious liberty, a person who killed his own sister because he believed he was under a religious obligation to do so would be immune from prosecution for murder.