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Trump judicial pick pressed on accusing Christian farm of ‘discrimination’ against same-sex ‘weddings’

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WASHINGTON, D.C., May 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri scrutinized another of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees Wednesday for an apparent disconnect between his record and the conservative legal philosophy the president pledged during his campaign.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was questioning Michael Bogren, Trump’s nominee to be a federal district judge for the Western District of Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports. Hawley, a conservative freshman, used his opportunity to question Bogren on his role as an attorney for the City of East Lansing during a 2017 religious liberty dispute.

As LifeSiteNews covered at the time, the city was trying to bar Steve and Bridget Tennes, owners of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, from its local farmers’ market due to the Christian family farm’s refusal to host same-sex “weddings.” A district judge granted a preliminary request to let the Tennes family in while their lawsuit progressed, and last month the family’s attorneys appeared before the Western District Court to make their case.

Representing the city’s efforts to keep the family out, Bogren wrote a brief in 2017 arguing that “discriminatory conduct” being “based on sincerely held religious beliefs does not insulate that conduct from anti-discrimination laws,” noting that members of the Nation of Islam or Ku Klux Klan who opposed interracial marriage “would not be able to ... avoid the anti-discrimination provisions of federal, state and local laws that apply to public accommodations if interracial couples were refused service."

“The message isn’t Catholics need not apply,” but that “discriminators need not apply,” he also said at the time. “The fact that the plaintiff says, ‘My religion compels me,’ does not protect him. There’s a difference between belief and act." During his questioning this week, Hawley argued that Bogren’s comparison demonstrated “impermissible hostility” toward religious beliefs.

“You think those things are equivalent,” Hawley said. “You think that the Catholic family's pointing out the teachings of their church is equivalent to a KKK member invoking Christianity [...] The Masterpiece Cakeshop case turned on these issues, it turned on this kind of animus. The fact that you stand by these comments is extraordinary to me.”

“I stand by those comparisons,” Bogren declared, arguing he was merely defending his client’s (the city’s) position to the best of his ability and making the point that a religious motivation is immaterial to whether an act is discriminatory. “From a legal perspective, senator, there is no difference,” Bogren said.

The incident has alarmed various conservatives, who noted that Bogren appears to be a far cry from the conservative jurists Trump campaigned on appointing.

“Folks, that is the whole enchilada of what we are fighting in the courts today,” Conservative Review’s Daniel Horowitz warned. “Governments are codifying the homosexual – and now, the transgender – agenda into civil rights, thereby trampling the foundational freedom of religion in this country. Once we accede to the point that sexual behavior is just like race, that would mean that even private businesses who are not seeking government work but just merely want to be left alone would also be forced to directly serve homosexual weddings.”

Bogren isn’t the first Trump judicial nominee to concern social conservatives. Last year, he nominated assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Bumatay and Illinois Magistrate Judge Mary Rowland to the federal bench, both of whom belonged to or worked for LGBT legal organizations that have staked out left-wing stances on homosexuality and religious liberty issues.

Elected in November, Hawley ruffled feathers earlier this year when he joined a Republican-controlled Senate accustomed to approving such judges with little scrutiny. In February, he was criticized by some for questioning D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Neomi Rao over her pro-life credentials and judicial philosophy (though he eventually supported her after a follow-up meeting satisfied his concerns).

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