With six weeks left until election day in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race, several far-left organizations are using media outlets to amplify a smear campaign against a judge based on his Christianity. Brian Hagedorn, a current Wisconsin Court of Appeals judge and former Scott Walker legal counsel, is being publicly trashed for being on the board of a small Christian school, and for blog posts when he was in law school discussing court cases about abortion and gay sex.
In considering a run for the state Supreme Court, the father of five children says, “I expected to be attacked here because that’s what’s happening all across the country–you know, ‘Are you now or have you ever been associated with the Knights of Columbus?'” he said, chuckling. “Interrogating people [nominated for office] if they went to a Bible study or the Knights of Columbus, that’s where we are as a country.”
The media characterization of his writing is often misleading. For example, a ThinkProgress hit piece claims that, in a blog post paraphrasing former Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent on a case about Texas sodomy laws, Hagedorn “compared homosexuality to bestiality.” In fact, his post simply notes the U.S. Constitution has nothing to say about any supposed rights to sex with anyone or anything, then essentially paraphrases Scalia’s dissent, which two other justices joined.
That dissent said striking a law against sodomy on the grounds that states are constitutionally forbidden from banning any sexual activity citizens consider “immoral and unacceptable” also eliminates the legal basis for “criminal laws against fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity.” Scalia instead invited LGBT activists to persuade their fellow citizens that sodomy bans were wrong and change the laws, rather than using courts to eliminate the legal basis on which states criminalize socially disapproved sexual behaviors.
While a law student in 2005, Hagedorn simply wrote he agreed with this legal analysis. It doesn’t compare bestiality and homosexuality in anything except the basis for former laws against them. That both were illegal on this basis until relatively recently is simply a fact. Yet like ThinkProgress, several Wisconsin outlets quoted context-free snippets of Hagedorn’s post in a rush to paint him as a bigot.
“The news reports have been entirely misleading on that,” Hagedorn said in a phone interview. “They often can’t track the legal arguments… The argument I was making was nothing other than what three Supreme Court justices made in that very case. The Lawrence v. Texas decision’s logic was not strong. I am not myself interested in relitigating all those issues today, but that argument that was made was just tracking that Supreme Court case.”
The attacks on Hagedorn also target a small Christian school that he and his wife helped found. Associated Press, Wisconsin State Journal, and Wisconsin Public Radio headlines falsely said the school “bans LGBT teachers, students,” “bar[s] gays” and “bans homosexuals.” No, the school’s conduct code forbids “students, parents and teachers from ‘participating in immoral sexual activity (defined as any form of touching or nudity for the purpose of evoking sexual arousal apart from the context of marriage between one man and one woman).'”
That’s only a gay ban if you offensively assume gay people can’t resist having sex. Remember, students are minors whom many think shouldn’t engage in sex at all regardless of what kind. Under this policy gay students could be welcomed. Therefore, it’s not a “gay ban.”
Further, if it is a gay ban then it’s also a cohabiting and makeout ban, but people who cohabit and make out aren’t (yet) identity groups that can be weaponized to amass political power, so no news story makes that connection. So do Christians also hate cohabitors and people who hook up and make out and twerk, or does Christianity hold extremely high standards for sexual behavior that are not at all limited to homosexuality? We can’t consider the latter, apparently, because that contradicts the politically useful narrative that people of faith bear some particular ill will towards homosexuals.
In a press release and to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, however, the activist group One Wisconsin Now pushed that divisive and religiously bigoted narrative, calling the 40-student school “an organization that actively discriminates against the LGBTQ community” because its conduct codes say Christians must reserve sex for natural marriage. This is a core Christian teaching and has been for 2,000 years. If any organization that holds this view “actively discriminates against the LGBTQ community,” then all orthodox Christian, Islamic, and Jewish organizations, as well as many Bhuddist and Hindu organizations, are centers of bigotry. Good luck convincing the majority of the world’s cultures and religions that they are evil bigots for upholding thousands of years of cross-cultural and cross-religious teachings.
The argument against Hagedorn seems to be that no faithful religious believer can also be a good public official, in line with a crop of similar attacks on federal nominees at the federal level from prominent Democrats including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Mazie Hirono, and Sen. Bernie Sanders. How convenient for the minority of secularists to define their tribe as the only one eligible for rule. And whatever happened to tolerance and pluralism, and not discriminating against people based on their identity?
“My job as a judge is to say what the law is and not what it should be,” Hagedorn said. “This is an effort to attack me for my faith and take this [campaign] in directions that are irrelevant to the job that I’m doing of applying the law faithfully.”
Not only are these kinds of attacks against people of faith the real bigotry at play, they are massively ignorant, in bad faith, and unconstitutional: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” says the U.S. Constitution’s article six.
Hagedorn says his conservative judicial philosophy restrains him from doing anything other than applying the laws equally and impartially, regardless of his personal religious or political beliefs. In fact, he said, “Any judge who does not regularly issue a decision he does not agree with is not a good judge. My job is not to decide whether I like the law or policy or not. We need to stop politicizing our courts and stop incorporating one’s own views into judicial decisionmaking.”
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel even contacted the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to ask about the school, and raised the prospect of “lawsuits alleging discrimination against the school’s officials or Hagedorn.” Nice little school you made for your kids there. Be a shame if the federal government investigated it or somebody filed a discrimination lawsuit. Thankfully, Hagedorn says, private religious schools have the well-established legal right to hire and fire based on their religious beliefs.
“All I can do is treat people with dignity and respect and gentleness,” Hagedorn said, when asked how these attacks are affecting him personally. “I’ve always tried to do that. I think there’s likely to be people who do continue to be excluded for some period of time [for their religion]. If I’m one of them, so be it. But I’m going to try to be faithful to the calling I have… Maybe I can be one small stone in the river that says this is not okay. I am going to be a judge who applies the law fairly to everybody regardless of my Christian faith. We need to move past this as a culture and a country.”
These smears against Hagedorn and others like him nominated or running for public office hang a “No Christians need apply” sign on not only public offices but entire professions, such as law, health, and education. In all of these domains, and more, Christians are increasingly told to check their convictions at the door.
This kind of political pressure also implies that, in an America rapidly embedding LGBT legal and cultural preferences, religious integrity is increasingly at odds with the political regime. Christians — and Jews and Buddhists and other faithful believers — have lived in those kinds of hostile societies before.
“The great thing about being a Christian is that my hope is not in this life,” Hagedorn said. “All I can do is be faithful to what I’ve been called to and let the chips fall where they may.”