Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) used her Christian faith to ardently defend the rights of LGBTQ Americans during a congressional committee hearing on Thursday ― calling out the “bigotry” of those who use Christianity to discriminate against this marginalized community.
The lawmaker suggested that Jesus himself would be “maligned as a radical” by today’s Congress for his message of love and inclusion.
She said it strikes her that “if Christ himself walked through these doors and said what he said thousands of years ago ― that we should love our neighbor and our enemy, that we should welcome the stranger, fight for the least of us, that it is easier ... for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into a kingdom of heaven ― he would be maligned as a radical and rejected from these doors.”
In opening remarks, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) said the Trump administration has used executive orders, amicus briefs in legal disputes, and agency guidance and regulations to roll back protections for LGBTQ people.
“The Trump administration has been working zealously to turn the government into an instrument of hostility and opposition towards LGBTQ rights across the executive branch of government,” Raskin said.
Last year, an NBC News and Columbia Journalism Investigation found that Trump’s Justice Department filed more amicus briefs in religious liberties cases in its first two years than the Obama and George W. Bush administrations during their first two years.
Raskin pointed to an amicus brief the Justice Department filed in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Colorado bakery that argued it had a right, for religious reasons, to refuse to make customized wedding cakes for gay customers.
He also referred to a proposed Health and Human Services Department rule that would have allowed health care workers to refuse care due to religious convictions. A federal judge voided the “conscience” rule in November. LGBTQ groups had argued that the rule would have let providers deny care to queer patients.
The White House, in a response to HuffPost, accused Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez of “deliberately distorting the president’s record” and refusing to “credit any action he’s taken to protect and promote LGBTQ Americans.”
“The president believes in human dignity for all and that no one should be discriminated against, including religious organizations and the LGBTQ community,” a White House spokesperson said in an email. “Since taking office, President Trump has taken actions that build on his longstanding commitment to responsibly safeguard the fundamental right to religious freedom by eliminating unfair and unequal treatment by the federal government.”
Among the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing was Evan Minton, a transgender man who is suing a Catholic hospital in California for canceling his hysterectomy. The Trump administration had cited Minton’s case to justify why the conscience rule was necessary.
Ocasio-Cortez said that her faith teaches her that Minton’s life is sacred and that he deserves equal access to medical care.
“There is nothing holy about rejecting medical care of people, no matter who they are, on the grounds of what their identity is,” she said. “There is nothing holy about turning someone away from a hospital.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who identifies as Catholic, frequently refers to her religious beliefs on Twitter. Shortly after winning the 2018 Democratic primary, she published a piece in the Jesuit magazine America describing how her Catholic faith inspired her to fight for criminal justice reform. Echoing Pope Francis, she has also expressed support for refugees by pointing out that Jesus himself was a refugee.
The congresswoman said Thursday that America has a history of using scripture to justify bigotry.
“White supremacists have done it, those who justified slavery did it, those who fought against integration did it and we’re seeing it today,” she said.
She accused the Trump administration of advancing the idea that “faith is about exclusion.”
“I know and it is part of my faith that all people are holy and all people are sacred. Unconditionally,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“I am tired of communities of faith being weaponized and being mischaracterized because the only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination,” she added.