Lankford Applauds Unanimous Supreme Court Ruling, as Senate Prepares to Take Up Equality Act
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on YouTube.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor to applaud the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia and to discuss the Equality Act and S.1, which Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced the Senate plans to take up next week. Earlier today, Lankford participated in a press conference to discuss his concerns with and opposition to S.1. In March, Lankford testified during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing against the Equality Act because it removes protections of one group in an attempt to protect another, which goes against America’s basic constitutional principle.
For the Fulton case, the Supreme Court unanimously held that Philadelphia was wrong to require Catholic Social Services to shed their faith in order to serve children and families and reaffirmed that no one should be discriminated against or compelled by the government to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. In 2019 Lankford signed on to a brief asking the Supreme Court to take the case. In March, Lankford introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would protect faith-based child welfare providers, like Catholic Social Services, from being discriminated against for acting in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs. Lankford also penned an op-ed earlier this year on how and why Americans can have their faith and live their faith. In December, Lankford joined his colleagues to introduce a resolution defending the First Amendment of the Constitution—the right to the free exercise of religion. Lankford addressed the Conservative Political Action Committee conference earlier this year to discuss the importance of the First Amendment for who we are as Americans.
Next week looks like a busy week. That’s fine. We have a lot of things we need to be able to cover and to walk through as the senate. Next week is particularly divisive, though, in some of the issues that are coming up.
Let me give you two examples that I hear are on the docket for next week. One of them deals with how we vote in America. Now, in Oklahoma, we know how we vote. Each state determines its own structure of how they vote. And in Oklahoma, you can do absentee mail-in voting with no excuses. If for any reason you want to be able to mail in a ballot, you can do that. You can do in-person voting early. In fact, this year our state legislature met, they added another day of in-person voting. So, there are lots of days of in-person voting in Oklahoma. Or you can actually go to the polls the day of the election and be able to vote then. It’s up to you. We have very straightforward voter ID laws. We have a system that sets up that if you do early voting or absentee voting, all the disputes on those are handled before election day itself. So that on election day, when the polls close at 7:00 PM, we then finish all the voting, or the counting, I should say, on early absentee, on early in-person, and then we’re counting the day of. Usually by about 10:30 at night on election day, we’re done voting and everyone is done watching all the final results in from the entire state.
It’s a pretty straightforward, clean process that we have seen that is exceptionally reliable. In fact, it’s so tough in 2016 when the Russians were probing different systems to try to get into it, our state was one of the states the Russians tried to get into, couldn’t get into our system, and they moved on to other states to try to get into those. We have a secure system, we have a reliable system. But that’s apparently not enough. Because Senate bill 1, that’s coming to the floor next week would say, Oklahoma we’re going to completely change your system. People in Washington, DC, don’t like how you vote, don’t like your clean reliability efficiency, regardless of complaints, we think we want to change it here in Washington, DC. Interestingly enough, we have a system that can also verify if someone voted twice. In fact in this past election, 57 people in Oklahoma voted twice. We could verify that after the fact based on all the records, and we could go back and be able to prosecute those individuals that chose to vote twice because that’s not legal.
Here is what happens when S. 1 comes to the floor. The debate here on S. 1 will begin with no voter ID, take away your voter ID in Oklahoma. Change the way that you do early voting. In fact, change the way the ballots are actually collected entirely. No longer in Oklahoma will we know the winner of our election at 10:30 on election night. S. 1 clangs that and says ballots have to be allowed to trickle in for ten more days after the election is over. So we won’t know at 10:30 at night on election night. We’ll know two weeks later who actually won the elections.
And as far as a reliable system that we can all verify and check, oh, no, it changes that dramatically. It now opens up what’s called ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting would allow political operatives to go door to door to be able to engage with people that had mail-in ballots and to say to them have you mailed your ballot in? If they say, ‘no,’ they can say, ‘Well, let’s just fill it out right here on the porch. Then you can hand it to me, and I’ll take it in.’ So on Election Day, what happens is political operatives show up with boxes full of ballots and turn in boxes full of ballots with the words ‘Trust me, these are all good.’
I would tell you in Oklahoma we like it better when the postman carries that ballot or when you actually turn it in to that county or precinct official so we know where it’s been, there has been an accurate chain of custody, not someone showing up with a box full of ballots saying, ‘Trust me, I collected all these.’ Because when that happens and someone is just collecting ballots, you have no idea if the person voting voted for one person and left the rest of them blank and the person carrying them just filled out the rest of the ballot for them, you have no chain of custody at all on it.
That’s why I say S. 1 makes voting easy, cheating easy, and verifying elections impossible. This is not the direction that we should go. If we want to build trust in our election system in America, let’s let each state build trust in their election system for each state, like we do in Oklahoma. Where we work together to make sure we can make it as easy as possible for every person to be able to vote and to encourage every person to vote, but when it’s over, to verify that election. And to be able to know that we can check it all off and to go, regardless of the outcome, we can trust the outcome because we know we can verify it. Let’s make it easy to vote, hard to cheat, and easy to verify. Not having Washington, DC, folks here say, ‘DC is righteous and states are wrong.’ I think there is lots of great people all over the country that want to do their elections right, and that aren’t Republicans or Democrats. They are just people protecting democracy in the states. Let’s keep that system.
That’s the first of two divisive bills that are coming up next week which will absolutely fail in this body and should fail in this body. There’s a second bill that I understand is coming up next week as well, it’s called the Equality Act. Now, I would tell you it’s a great name, and I don’t know of anyone on my side of the aisle or the other side of the aisle that opposes equality. And I will state frankly, no person should be discriminated against in America. No person. It is a basic constitutional principle. We are all equal under the law, all of us. We have different ideas about music and food. We have different ideas about sexuality. We have different ideas about occupations. We have different skin colors. We have different faiths. We are a tapestry. That’s one of the things that makes us strong in such a perfect way to build a more perfect union. I believe that every person should be protected from discrimination in America, but that does mean every person.
Today the Supreme Court ruled 9-0—9-0 in the Supreme Court—that Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia was being discriminated against by the City of Philadelphia. Because the City of Philadelphia said to Catholic Social Services, ‘You cannot practice your Catholic faith in foster services.’ Now, what’s the story? There have been Catholic Services in Philadelphia since the 1700s. For the last 50 years, Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia, this particular organization has served the neediest children in that area providing foster services and placement for them. They’re a religious organization, a faith-based organization, a Catholic organization, and they believe that God created man and woman and that’s God’s design for marriage. So in their placement of foster children, they place children in a home where there’s a man and a woman that are present for marriage, because of their profound belief. Now, there are 20 other foster services in Philadelphia that place foster children in any family situation — husband and wife or two men and two women, 20 of those services in Philadelphia.
But the city of Philadelphia went to Catholic social services and said, ‘You have to be like the other 20, you cannot practice your faith.’ Even though literally Catholic Social Services had never had a gay family reach out to them for an adoption placement, they had gone to other places. The City of Philadelphia said, ‘No, you have to change your practice.’ Unfortunately, Catholic Social Services had to argue for their religious freedom all the way to the Supreme Court, and today they ruled 9-0 that a faith-based institution cannot be discriminated against because of their faith. They should be able to live out the tenets of their faith and be able to practice that.
Now, to me that’s a great decision to be able to make, to say why can’t we coexist? Why can’t we honor everyone in their differences of opinion? As even the Supreme Court stated today in their opinion, there was no work for Catholic Social Services to stop gay marriages in Philadelphia or to stop couples from fostering children that are gay couples there. They just chose not to do it based on their faith. So they weren’t working against individuals, they were practicing their faith.
Then comes the Equality Act vote next week. The Equality Act would for the first time ever in this Congress, would take away the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in statute, would remove it, and to say there could be no protection for religious institutions, directly a shot against the Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision today to say that religious institutions have to be protected in their decisions. Why can’t both exist? Why do we have to get into the situation as the Equality Act does saying, if you don’t agree with one particular expression, then you have to be canceled, you have to be silenced? Why has it come to this in America? The way the Equality Act is written is that any faith-based institution, if they did any public outward facing work at all, if they fed the homeless, which many do; if they provided clothing, if they took care of individuals with food that needed it, if they did any outward facing work at all, they were considered a public accommodation, their labor laws, even if they’re a religious institution, had to be exactly like large corporate labor rules as well. Literally imposing on religious institutions. You can be a private entity and be inward-facing, but if you’re going to do your mission to actually serve the needy, then you’ve got to actually shift to be like corporate America.
That’s not providing opportunities for people of faith to live their faith. I have to tell you, I honor people of faith. People of different faiths, people of faiths I disagree with. That’s the nature of religious liberty in our country, is to be able to honor people of different faiths. That’s also what the Supreme Court reaffirmed today, directly in contradiction to the Equality Act, which clearly, if this were to pass — and I do not believe it will—the Supreme Court would hear immediately, would align with this case from today, and would say, we’ve already ruled on these issues 9-0, that is not allowing people to be able live their faith. Unfortunately, there are some in this body that not only vehemently disagree with the Supreme Court with the opportunity for people to be able to live their faith, they’re willing to be able to do it in the most pejorative of terms.
When I spoke against the Equality Act in the Judiciary Committee just weeks ago, and shared the issues that I had that were pragmatic labor issues, and set those in front of it. And also did a challenge on religious liberty issues and said, here are the obvious issues of religious liberty where I think it is unconstitutional, the response I got from a member of the Judiciary Committee was, this reminds me of the Ku Klux Klan, who burned crosses and used religious symbols to hide behind their bigotry. The Supreme Court disagreed with that today. They said, ‘We are the United States of America. We honor people of faith to be able to live their faith. We honor people that don’t have faith or have differences in their faith and choose to be able to live that out.’ And this body should not try to cancel out every group in the country of faith that disagrees with people in this body and to say, you cannot practice your faith if we tell you no. That’s not who we are.
The Equality Act is not about equality. It’s about imposing and prohibiting disagreement. We’re Americans. We can respect each other and disagree. We can live next door to each other and disagree. Let’s prove it in this body by not passing the poorly named Equality Act but actually demonstrating what this Act says it wants to demonstrate, let’s treat each other with respect in our differences and honor us in that.