A well-known but rarely respected clause of the First Amendment is the “separation of church and state.” It requires that there be no official U.S. religion, and that the government refrain from prohibiting “the free exercise thereof.”
Through interpretation and application, the clause has since been extended to our country’s statutes and governing bodies — insisting that the laws our institutions pass and enforce, and the lawmakers and administrators who carry out such functions, operate without any undue fealty to their religion over that of their secular duties. The Wisconsin Supreme Court election has become a test of where our state’s voters stand on this cornerstone issue.
One candidate, Judge Lisa Neubauer, has shown herself to be dedicated to upholding this time-honored American judicial tradition. Her opponent Brian Hagedorn, however, has shown himself to be actively hostile to it. That’s why this board is proud to endorse Neubauer in the upcoming Supreme Court election.
In an explicitly non-partisan race host to the partisan spending typical to most political campaigns, it is understandable and expected that candidates will emerge from both the right and the left. Both sides entertain legitimate views on a host of issues when it comes to jurisprudence, but Wisconsin voters haven’t seen much of that from Hagedorn, the conservative candidate, this cycle.
His views fall dangerously to the right, and he has cited his Christian faith as a major influencer underlying his views. There’s nothing inherently wrong with one’s religious beliefs influencing their actions — indeed, it’s to be expected.
But when it comes to our nation’s government, especially in an election that will seat the next justice of our state’s highest court, we should expect more. And as our state becomes increasingly diverse — home to a wide range of religious beliefs, sexual and gender identities, and racial and ethnic backgrounds — we should approach a candidate like Hagedorn with a greater degree of scrutiny.
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Hagedorn’s dangerous record goes back a long way, all the way to his days as a law student at Northwestern University. There, he wrote a series of blog posts, some of which received intense scrutiny during this election cycle.
In one post, Hagedorn appears to suggest that the legalization of sodomy establishes a basis for the legalization of bestiality — an argument whose legal truth is admittedly technical, but which is also a too-close-for-comfort parallel to the political arguments which have long been employed by conservative pundits opposed to the idea of gay marriage and expanded LGBTQ+ rights.
Later, as a judge, Hagedorn received thousands of dollars for delivering speeches to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group and which has openly called for the criminalization of sodomy and the sterilization of transgender people.
Finally, Hagedorn founded Augustine Academy in 2016 — a school that has been found to ban gay teachers, students and parents.
Hagedorn has defended all of these incidents — his questionable blog posts, his paid speeches to a veritable hate group, his connections to a school that bans gay relationships — by citing his identity as a Christian. Such a defense is fine if Hagedorn were a private citizen, asking to maintain his own beliefs in the privacy of his own life. But that’s not the case.
Hagedorn is asking us to give him a seat on the highest court in this state. In doing that, he’s asking us to either overlook his questionable record of being inappropriately swayed by his private religious beliefs, or to declare that such a record doesn’t matter — that Christian values and traditions matter more than non-Christian ones.
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In this country, the latter is unacceptable as long as our constitution and its long-standing interpretations still carry weight. This board believes Neubauer has shown a commitment to upholding such values, while Hagedorn has done anything but.
The Editorial Board serves to represent the voice of The Badger Herald editorial department, distinct from the newsroom, and does not necessarily reflect the views of each staff member.