WANTED TO KNOW IF COMMISSIONER WOULD DISCRIMINATE
Here is the exact transcript of the testimony of Commissioner Designee Kelly Tshibaka, Dept. of Administration, on March 5, 2019, at 3:44 pm in the House Senate Affairs Committee:
“In preparing for these confirmation hearings, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with members of the committees ahead of time. And these meetings have given me the chance to learn about issues of interest to the members, and answer questions on a wide range of topics.
The majority of these meetings have been enjoyable and productive; however, in my meeting with Chairman Fields, he asked me questions related to my religious beliefs, like how I would express my Christian faith at work, how my Christian faith would affect my implementation of laws and policies, and if I would separate my faith-life from my work-life.
He told me to be prepared to answer these questions at the hearing today. So, I want to take a few moments to address these issues openly and publicly.
I have a strong and established 16-year federal career of cultivating diverse teams, and of faithfully implementing federal laws, regulations and policies. I would not have been entrusted with multiple senior level positions, nor maintained my top-secret SCI security clearance, if I’d engaged in religious expression that was inappropriate, if I’d forced my religious beliefs on others, or if I’d contravened laws and policies with which I disagree.
As further testament to my leadership, the committees have received several letters of endorsement from inspectors general who’ve supervised me throughout my career, as well as from some of my direct reports, many of whom do not share my religious views.
You’ve received letters from the former Inspector General from the Department of Justice, the former Inspector General of the Federal Trade Commission, the Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service, and the Inspector General of the Department of Labor, all of whom have endorsed my nomination, and none of whom would have done so if I was a leader who used my position or authority to violate other people’s civil rights. In short, throughout my professional career, I have lived out my faith and values in a manner that is true to myself, respectful of others, and consistent with the law.
In my last two confirmations hearings before the Senate, I was asked if I would have the courage to speak up if I believed that our state leaders were heading in the wrong direction. I said I would. And today, I am. This is one of those times.
The questions I’ve been asked about my faith are unconstitutional lines of inquiry that violate my civil liberties.
Religious liberty is enshrined in the text of our United States Constitution.
The First Amendment protects freedom of religious expression. And Article VI of the Constitution provides that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. The United States Supreme Court has explicitly warned against the danger of presuming that a person’s faith might present a danger in the context of holding public office. In McDaniel v. Paty, Justices Brennan and Marshall wrote that the American experience provides no persuasive support for the fear that clergymen in public office will be less careful of anti-establishment interests or less faithful to their oaths of public office than their un-ordained counterparts.
Article I Section III of our own Alaska State Constitution also provides that no person is to be denied the enjoyment of any civil or political right because of creed. Furthermore, the questions I’ve been asked violate the spirit of Alaska Statute 18.80.200 and 18.80.210 which explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, including religious discrimination in employment. Those laws say that this Legislature has declared it a legislative finding that discrimination against an inhabitant of the state because of religion is a matter of public concern, and not only threatens the rights and privileges of the inhabitant of the state, but also threatens the peace, order, health, safety and general welfare of the state and its inhabitants.
Finally, I’d like to direct your attention to guidelines President Bill Clinton issued on August 17, 1997 relating to religious expression in the federal workplace. These guidelines have the force of an executive order, and they’ve been affirmed by every presidential administration since then, including President Barack Obama. The guidelines state that a supervisor is free to engage in religious expression, when it is understood as the personal view of the supervisor and not perceived as coercion of religious or nonreligious behavior.
For example, a supervisor can invite co-workers to church events, talk about religion, and hold or attend a bible study during lunch. He or she cannot, however, order co-workers to attend a religious service, or a coerced agreement with their views. I’d like to submit for the legislative record both President Clinton’s guidelines and a recent legal memorandum that was issued by the Department of Justice on October 6, 2017 regarding federal law protections for religious liberty. I trust that these will be helpful and informative.
My rights, under both our federal and state constitutions, were violated during my pre-hearing meeting with Chairman Fields.
While I harbor absolutely no ill-will against the chairman, my hope is that I am the last nominee before the Legislature to be subjected to such unconstitutional lines of inquiry. All employees of Alaska – from supervisors to staff, from commissioners to interns – have a protected freedom to express their religion or nonreligion. Alaskans’ rights of free exercise are not limited to their doors of their churches, their synagogues, their mosques, or their temples. They carry those rights with them wherever they go, and wherever they are, including in the halls of our state legislature or at their desks at the State of Alaska agencies. Their rights of free exercise of religion have to be honored and protected and observed.
I have found that the greatest diversity in the workforce is created when people are fully free to be their true selves. And it’s in the richness of that diversity that trust is formed, and community is fostered, and unity is forged. It’s along those lines that some Democratic legislators have asked if I will discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
So let me be absolutely clear: I will not engage in such discrimination, nor have I ever engaged in such discrimination. I have a long career as a senior leader in the federal government, in which I’ve consistently celebrated, embraced and respected diversity. I will continue to live by that standard as the Commissioner of the Department of Administration…”
Chairman Zack Fields, D-Anchorage: Thanks Ms. Tshibaka. I think before going to other committee members, since I’ve been the subject of part of that statement, I’ll start off.
I did ask the commissioner about her views on homosexuality and her ability to be a manager of a diverse workforce. And I actually thought your answer was entirely appropriate and I appreciated it. I was simply looking for you to repeat it on the record to reassure people. I certainly did not apply a religious test or intend to apply a religious test. I respect that there’s a wide variety of people who are in our workforce. I guess I am just disappointed that you’ve made that accusation because that was not my intent, nor is that what I did. With that I think I’ll go to other committee members’ questions.