Complaint dismissed against State Capitol Bible study, leader says he’s being more careful

By: - April 27, 2023 6:33 pm
Ten Commandments

Under the sculpture of Moses (at far left) on the south side of the State Capitol is a rendering of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew — something pointed out by the leader of a State Capitol Bible study group. (Courtesy of Capitol Commission)

LINCOLN — A formal complaint that the leader of a State Capitol Bible study group needed to register as a lobbyist has been dismissed by the state sunshine commission.

The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission informed Arin Hess, leader of the Capital Studies Bible study, last week that the complaint against his role had been considered and dismissed.

Hess, a former Norfolk, Nebraska, minister and county Republican Party chairman there, said he can see “the viewpoint” of the complaint filed by Common Cause Nebraska because he is often in the State Capitol. But he has insisted he is only “lobbying for Jesus.”

Arin Hess
Arin Hess, a former pastor in Norfolk, ministers to state senators and State Capitol staffers through a nonprofit called Capitol Studies.
(Courtesy of Arin Hess)

Hess organizes a weekly Bible study with about a dozen state senators and offers a similar Bible study for legislative staffers. He also provides pastoral support and counsel at least three days a week at the State Capitol.

‘Being extra careful now’

Hess said this week that he has become more watchful that the studies do not stray into legislative matters.

“I’ve asked (senators) not to discuss these things,” Hess said Wednesday. “I’m being extra careful now.”

He added that he no longer plans to use videos provided by a Texas-based group, the WallBuilders.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled WallBuilder founder David Barton as an “extremist,” who maintains that the Founding Fathers did not intend for there to be a separation between church and state and that the U.S. should be a “Christian nation.”

Hess said he had used WallBuilders videos for educational purposes about biblical history and not for political ends.

‘Overtly political’ materials

The political watchdog group Common Cause Nebraska had filed a complaint with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission in January, maintaining that Hess’ work was no different than that of lobbyists — hired to impact pending legislation — and that he should register as a lobbyist.

Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause, said Thursday that while he respects the decision by the NADC, his organization continues to believe that “the materials Hess uses in his ministry come from overtly political sources….”

He said it was “encouraging” that Hess plans to stop using WallBuilders videos.

State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, who had complained that Hess was walking into legislative offices without a required escort or (during COVID) a mask, said Wednesday that she disagreed with the decision by the NADC.

Blood said she has no problem with Capital Studies holding Bible studies but said they shouldn’t be held on state property.

The senators’ group recently met in the office of State Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil — something the Clerk of the Legislature’s Office has said is no different than hosting other visitors. Hess said the staffers’ Bible study has moved to the basement of a state office building near the Capitol.

The complaint was filed amid rising concerns about the influence of “Christian nationalism” on state and federal policies. Christian nationalism is a belief that the United States is a “Christian nation” and for Christians alone. The fear is that it is influencing matters such as the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.

Hess said that much common law is based on the Ten Commandments, pointing out that the Commandments are written in Hebrew at the south entrance to the State Capitol.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.