Defending America’s First Freedom
By Governor Pete Ricketts
June 28, 2022
Governor’s official photo here.
Religious freedom is the first freedom listed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That’s no accident. Religious freedom is the cornerstone of a free society.
The Founders of the United States recognized the importance of religion to the health of our Republic. They also knew that religion flourishes best when practiced without coercion.
The authors of our Nebraska Constitution knew this as well. Article I-4 of the Nebraska Constitution recognizes that “All persons have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences.”
The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion. The notion that the Constitution creates a firewall between government and the belief in God is historically inaccurate and deeply mistaken. In America, we open legislative session with prayer, inscribe “In God We Trust” on coins, have religious chaplains in the armed forces and government agencies, and acknowledge we are “One nation, under God,” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The First Amendment was not intended to scrub religion from public life. Instead, it was meant to protect against the government interfering with religion and promoting one state religion. In fact, the Constitution specifically forbids issuing a religious test to those entering government service.
Today, that intent has been flipped on its head to push for the absence of religion in public life. This was on display in 2018 during Congressional confirmation hearings of Judge Brian Buescher from Nebraska. Senator Mazie Hirono and then-Senator Kamala Harris suggested that Buescher’s Catholicism and involvement with the Knights of Columbus, a charitable Catholic organization, disqualified him from being an impartial judge. To her credit, fellow Democrat Tulsi Gabbard called them out for their “religious bigotry,” and Judge Buescher won confirmation. Even so, it was alarming to watch prominent U.S. Senators try to block Judge Buescher’s nomination because of his religion.
Religious discrimination isn’t limited to Washington, DC. Nebraskans have united to push back against threats to religious liberty right here in our state.
In February, Lincoln’s City Council passed an ordinance that it referred to as a “Fairness Ordinance”. It was extremely unfair to the many religious residents of Lincoln who have a traditional understanding of gender/sexuality. It prevented parents from seeking counseling that helped kids question their gender dysphoria. It empowered unelected bureaucrats to fine anyone who went against the ordinance up to $50,000. And concerningly, it applied to Lincoln’s private schools – 70% of which are religiously affiliated – but not to public schools.
Residents of Lincoln pushed back against the oppressive ordinance and defeated it. In just 15 days, they collected over 18,000 signatures in a petition drive, which caused the city council to rescind the ordinance. In doing so, these courageous and committed citizens of a variety of religions showed that assaults on religious freedom can be successfully repelled.
Recently, we’ve seen more victories for religious freedom nationwide. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of families who challenged the religious bias of Maine’s school funding system. And yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Joseph Kennedy, a high school football coach who had been punished by his public school for praying at the 50-yard line after games. The Court’s ruling upheld an individual’s right to personally exercise religion in the context of public employment.
These victories are encouraging. But they’re also sobering reminders of the prejudice that exists in America against people of faith and the need to combat it. This bias is evident in recent attempts to silence anyone who disagrees with radical transgender ideology. The Biden Administration is weaponizing federal agencies to impose this ideology at schools across America, even religiously affiliated schools. Last month, the USDA announced it will withhold food aid from any school that refuses to adopt its divisive, non-scientific transgender policies. Last week, the Department of Education proposed new Title IX regulations that would force transgender ideology on schools that receive federal funding. For our private religious schools, the threat is profound: violate your deeply held religious beliefs on gender/sexuality, or else.
The Constitution makes it clear that Americans enjoy the right to religious freedom. It’s also clear that the Biden Administration is willing to overstep the bounds of its constitutional authority to impose its values on Americans. As Governor, I will continue to defend Nebraskans’ right to religious freedom from federal overreach.
I invite you to let me know if you’ve faced religious discrimination by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 402-471-2244.