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On Capitol Hill, faith groups’ protesters duel over Kavanaugh confirmation

An activist opposed to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh holds an umbrella on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

WASHINGTON (RNS) — As the national drama played inside, demonstrators from across the religious spectrum camped outside the Capitol building Thursday (Sept. 27) to protest for and against Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Roughly 300 students from Liberty University, a conservative Christian school 200 miles away in Lynchburg, Va., made the trek to voice their support for Kavanaugh.

About 150 students at the university’s Helms School of Government had signed up to visit the hearing in coordination with Liberty’s chapter of Concerned Women for America, a grassroots advocacy group, according to several at the Capitol. School president Jerry Falwell Jr., hoping to double that number, later expanded the offer of free transportation to other academic concentrations.

Liberty ended up sending at least two buses to the event, which students said was partly to counter protests against Kavanaugh earlier in the week by enrollees at Yale, his alma mater.

The delegation included both women and men, some brandishing “Make America Great Again” hats. Most were quick to shower praise on Kavanaugh.

Students from Liberty University arrive on Capitol Hill to support U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

“We believe President Trump is an amazing man, and if he picked Judge Kavanaugh then I think he’s a good choice,” said Liberty freshman Alexander Swerdloff, one of several dozen Liberty students chatting excitedly as they stood in line to take a tour of the Supreme Court after a morning protest.

Ann Satagaj another Liberty student, agreed.

“I think he’s an exemplary candidate for the next justice,” she said. “I don’t think that just based on an allegation that he should be slammed without actual proof, without actual evidence, without due process.”

Audrey Boyette, a sophomore at Liberty’s Helms School, said her faith played a role in her support for Kavanaugh, whom she had hoped Trump would pick.

“A lot of the morals I have because I’m a Christian, and a lot of the beliefs I have because I’m a Christian, are definitely in line with Kavanaugh,” she said.

The tone was very different at the reflecting pool in front of the U.S. Capitol, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered later in the day for a “Cancel Kavanaugh” protest led in part by prominent Muslim American activist and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour.

Linda Sarsour, center, rallies with other activists opposed to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in front of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Signs with slogans such as “Kava-nope” bobbed alongside outstretched hands with “Believe women” written across their palms, amid chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Kavanaugh has got to go!”

Among the protesters was the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, head of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who with other UUA ministers had donned her clerical collar and stole to protest in the office of Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley in the morning.

“As a Unitarian Universalist and as a progressive faith tradition we honor the leadership and the religious leadership of women,” she said. “I do think there is an issue that compels me as a faith leader that is about standing up for women’s rights — protecting women’s rights, women’s choice, and women’s consent.”

She added: “Truth matters. Facts matter. Having people of integrity and credibility in our leadership matters.… I hope that anyone of any theology or political persuasion would believe that.”

At least three religious groups — Catholic, Mormon and Episcopalian — led by women have spoken out in recent days, calling on lawmakers to further investigate the claims of Kavanaugh’s accusers. America Magazine, a Jesuit publication that had previously endorsed Kavanaugh’s elevation to the nation’s highest court, rescinded its support for him on Friday following Thursday’s extraordinary hearing and called for his nomination to be withdrawn.

Even among the students who had come by bus from Liberty,  some were more circumspect when it came to assessing the claims of California professor Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were high school students.

“If, based on the testimony today, there seems like there could be more behind the claim, then yes, it should be investigated,” said Satagaj.

The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray during hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill on Sept. 27, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Several current and former Liberty students contacted Religion News Service to voice their frustration with Liberty’s presence, arguing the school did not offer to accommodate students who wanted to travel to Washington to demonstrate against Kavanaugh.

“Many students here were against going to the hearing today where, as most of the nation knows, our college sent many students,” Hannah H., a junior at Liberty who asked her last name be withheld for fear of reprisal, said in an email.

“While I know students who went with Liberty to support Kavanaugh, I also know students who drove up separately to protest him. They had to drive up separately because the school only sent people in order to support him at the hearing — and conveniently gave them a free pass out of classes,” she said.

“I am very unhappy with my school’s presence at Dr. Ford’s testimony today,” A.J. Strom, a senior at Liberty, said in another email. “I think that it is insulting to Dr. Ford and women who have been sexually assaulted to, instead of listen to what Dr. Ford has to say, go and protest the fact that she is telling her story.”

The tension between Kavanaugh supporters and his detractors was made palpable when, as Ford’s testimony was getting under way, a large column of Liberty students in “Women for Kavanaugh” shirts walked past a demonstration in support of Kavanaugh’s accusers outside the Dirksen Senate office building.

A single protester holding a bright red umbrella walked over to the middle of the sidewalk. She silently turned her back to the students, thrusting her umbrella high into the air as they passed her on either side.

Scrawled across the umbrella in bold black letters were two words: “Believe women.”

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

21 Comments

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  • She added: “Truth matters. Facts matter.”

    Not in Trump’s America, they don’t. And everyone who continues to support any Republican politician is guilty of enabling this frontal assault on objective truth. There is no other way to say it anymore.

  • There is one way….VOTE…vote every Republican you can out of office and maybe we can begin to Make America Great Again.

  • 1) Neither Ms. Ford nor her democratic puppet masters have any proof anything happened.
    2) everyone knows (including you) that this is politics and revenge for garland.
    3) at least for now (until the facists in the democrat party get in power); Americans are innocent until proven guilty.
    I expect spuddie to talk crazy and make facts up as he goes along but expect a little intellectual honesty from you.
    For Pete’s sake man; have some self respect.

  • Soooooo….. there are actually female reverends at some denominations that are pro-murder?

    A perfect example of why only men should be allowed in the priesthood.

  • People who think Kavanaugh is the victim of a Democratic plot need to ask themselves: how many women accused Gorsuch of assault?

  • On that fiasco the Dems played the filibuster card and lost.

    This time they played the Clarence Thomas card.

    If it does not work, and the mid-terms don’t go their way (the polls seem to indicate the public perception of the Republican has increased and that of the Democrats decreased), I can hardly imagine what their third card might be.

    Obviously Feinstein sandbagged the Committee and held Dr. Ford in reserve.

    Whether that qualifies as a “Democratic plot” or just their usual slimeball approach is a matter of semantics.

  • Irrelevant.
    Ford can’t speak coherently much less prove anything.
    In today’s hypersensitive environment, any accusations, true or otherwise are considered the truth. And because we have been so demasculated as a country, guys like flake cave like a house of cards.
    Fords accusation about kavanaugh is about as truthful as saying that ben in oakland was in the room with Ford; and that’s a stretch if you know what I mean.
    Lindsey Graham called it; what comes around goes around. Democrats will rue the day they pulled this; just like when Reid pulled his stunt which has allowed trump to fill federal judicial openings at will.

  • “I can hardly imagine what their third card might be.” I think they’ll have to opt for either blood in the streets or Play-Doh in the rubber room. Neither will go well for them.

  • What they’re going to find is that appealing to the mob guarantees blood in the streets.

    Maximilien Robespierre found that out the hard way.

  • Nope, it will be pedophilia. Judge X used to take the neighbor kids (along with her kids) to get ice cream in her minivan.

  • LOL! Perhaps. Ya think there is a level of absurdity that is too much even for the over-educated and under-employed lefty brigade that seems to have unlimited time for harassing people on streets and in restaurants?

    What a weenie Flake is. A gaggle of girls yell Boo at him and he wilts like a dandelion.

  • https://www.flake.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2018/9/flake-statement-on-scotus-nomination

    Posted on Sep 28 2018

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) today released the following statement:

    “After hearing more than 30 hours of testimony from Judge Kavanaugh earlier this month, I was prepared to support his nomination based on his view of the law and his record as a judge. In fact, I commented at the time that had he been nominated in another era, he would have likely received 90+ votes.

    When Dr. Ford’s allegations against Judge Kavanaugh surfaced two weeks ago, I insisted that she be allowed to testify before the committee moved to a vote. Yesterday, we heard compelling testimony from Dr. Ford, as well as a persuasive response from Judge Kavanaugh. I wish that I could express the confidence that some of my colleagues have conveyed about what either did or did not happen in the early 1980s, but I left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as certainty.

    What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence. That is what binds us to the rule of law. While some may argue that a different standard should apply regarding the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities, I believe that the constitution’s provisions of fairness and due process apply here as well.

    I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”

  • There is no end to their madness or vulgarity; I put nothing past them.

    Flake is a result of the everyone gets a ribbon, hand-wringing, helicopter parents who have demasculined America since the 1990’s.
    He should have got in her face, put his finger in her chest, told her she had it commin’, and then walked down to Feinstein’s office to read her the riot act.

  • https://news.gallup.com/poll/242906/republican-party-favorability-highest-seven-years.aspx

    “Republican Party Favorability Highest in Seven Years”

    “Forty-five percent of Americans now have a favorable view of the Republican Party, a nine-point gain from last September’s 36%. It is the party’s most positive image since it registered 47% in January 2011, shortly after taking control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. Forty-four percent give the Democratic Party a favorable rating.”

    If the mid-terms go the way I think they will, I will personally send “thank you” cards to Senator Feinstein and three of her buds.

  • I wonder if the Duke Lacrosse team would support your “believe women” point.

    Women have done it to themselves.

  • Think about this: it was her husband who told her whose name supposedly assaulted her about 4-5 years ago (supposedly) almost 30 years post the “event”, and now we’re supposed to take her word without any corroboration using her memory of events that happened more than 30 years ago?

    Idiots might go for that.

  • “ … a “Cancel Kavanaugh” protest led in part by prominent Muslim American activist and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour.“

    I can’t say I’m surprised a notorious anti-Semite like Sarsour is involved in yet another high-tech lynching, I’m just surprised so many otherwise sensible people are willing to discredit their cause by allying with her.

    All these people doing their best to destroy a good man and his family really need to think on where we go from there, and some advice from Paul: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”

  • So, your career, your marriage, your friends, the endorsements, the accomplishments are all for nought when an accusation is made?

    Channeling Stalin, by any chance?

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