Overview:

Nebraska State Sen. Mike Groene, a conservative Christian, is now under investigation for possibly breaking multiple laws.

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On Friday, Nebraska State Senator Mike Groene announced that he would resign his seat after a female legislative aide found pictures of herself—allegedly zoomed in on certain body parts and including sexually suggestive captions—on his computer while she was working on a project for him.

All of this represents a fall from grace for a conservative lawmaker who once argued that even atheists should promote religion since it kept people in line.

The pictures on Mike Groene’s computer

On Friday, Nebraska Sunrise News reported that Kristina Konecko, an aide who often worked with Groene over the past six years, found pictures of herself on his laptop that she deemed “objectifying and demeaning.” The pictures were allegedly “zoom-close-ups of provocative body parts with explicit subject lines,” which he then emailed to other people. She found them after he gave her his laptop to clean up unwanted emails from his inbox.

Groene denied any wrongdoing. He claimed the pictures were of her full body and that they weren’t sexual at all. Still, without her consent, none of that explains why he was sending her pictures to other people with sexual captions.

“In today’s world, if you want to take a picture of someone, you should say ‘I’m taking a picture.’ But I didn’t, and I apologized for it,” said Groene.

“She’s kind of a strait-laced person, and I guess I did something I shouldn’t have,” said Groene.

Groene insisted he treated Konecko “like a daughter” and had always maintained a professional relationship with her.

“If I’m going to be drug through the mud on the floor (of the Legislature), I’ll resign,” Groene said only a couple of hours before submitting his resignation.

Even in that pseudo-apology, there’s a lack of accountability on his part. Just look at how he attempts to throw Konecko under the bus by suggesting she’s too “strait-laced” and therefore just doesn’t have a sense of humor about these things.

Mike Groene resigns

Within hours of that story getting published, Groene announced his resignation. It came just as his time in office was about to expire. The 66-year-old lawmaker was elected eight years ago and would have been term-limited out anyway. Now he’s just stepping away early.

But this resignation isn’t without consequences. Groene was planning to run for a spot on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, announcing that campaign just last Tuesday. Now he’s running away from that as well. Groene says he doesn’t want his family to be embarrassed by an investigation.

“I’m going to resign,” Groene said. “I’m not going to take my family through this.”

He said he’s going to write a letter of resignation over the weekend and submit it Monday. The issue is not “the seriousness of the crime,” he said, but what Democrats will make of it.

“I’m not gonna let the Democrats attack me and embarrass my family and my wife,” he said.

In a text message to a different reporter, he said, “I am not going to drag my wife, family and friends through the fight it would take to defend myself… I am resigning and dropping out of politics completely. Life is too short.”

For a guy who claims to have done nothing wrong, he seems very certain there’s enough material out there that would make him look very, very bad.

Mike Groene is a religious hypocrite

What makes this downfall so surprising is that Groene has long been a conservative lawmaker. While Nebraska’s legislature is technically non-partisan, it’s unofficially dominated by Republicans, and Groene was firmly on that side of the aisle. According to one questionnaire, Groene was anti-abortion and anti-marriage equality. He described his spiritual beliefs this way: “Christian, faith in him and his son is al the guidance I need.” And he strongly agreed that “Judeo-Christian values established a framework of morality which permitted our system of limited government.”

A couple of years ago, when he was chairperson of the state’s Education Committee, there was a bill under consideration that would have required public schools to display the phrase “In God We Trust” in every school. During a hearing, an atheist veteran named Thomas Gray spoke out against the bill, rhetorically asking which God they wanted him and his kids to believe in. He also asked if the lawmakers thought he was a good citizen. His message was clear: This was a pro-Christian bill, no matter how much proponents tried to claim otherwise, and it wrongly suggested you needed God to be good. He wanted lawmakers to admit that wasn’t true.

When it was Groene’s turn to speak, he argued that people who did bad things in the name of God were exceptions to the rule (as if the modern Republican Party isn’t living proof that he’s wrong) and went on to say atheists should support this bill because God helped keep people in line:

GROENEI don’t understand atheists, why they wouldn’t embrace religion. It’s been called the great pacifier of man, to keep them in line, the fear of God… You keep people in line because they fear the afterlife. They don’t want to harm you because one of the tenets is, if they harm you, they can end up in Hell.

GRAY: We agree, I think, senator, that religion…

GROENE: So why wouldn’t the atheists promote religion? They’re smarter than everybody… If there’s no God, why wouldn’t you promote it? Because it protects you. Your neighbors will not harm you because they know… the afterlife will not exist for them, where they want to go, if they harm you, they slander you, they lie about you, they murder you. Wouldn’t you promote religion in a society, because it protects you? The tenets of [the] Christian religion and Islam and Buddhists preach to accept others. To not harm them. I would think you guys would be big cheerleaders for religion

In essence, Groene argued that atheists should support faith-based legislation because it made religious people like himself follow a moral path. Which implies they wouldn’t follow the moral path without the threat of hellfire.

And now Groene, the defender of religion, is resigning over something immoral. I guess he didn’t fear God’s wrath enough…

An atheist lawmaker is demanding an investigation

In the wake of Groene’s announced resignation, one of his colleagues, State Senator Megan Hunt (who happens to be an atheist), has asked the state’s Attorney General, Superintendent of Law Enforcement, and Nebraska State Capitol Security to investigate the matter anyway, in part because the reporting suggests all of this occurred in the workplace, on a state-owned computer, and possibly with the knowledge of other lawmakers. It all raises many more questions about what laws may have been broken.

From my review of the attached news stories, there are several criminal laws that may be implicated:

● Depending on the type or nature of the photographs that Senator Groene took, they could be a violation of Section 28-311.08, Unlawful Intrusion, which makes it a felony for any person to photograph or record an image of the intimate area of another person without their knowledge or consent. This is a Class IV felony and if a person is convicted, they have to register as a sex offender;

● Section 28-311.08 also provides that sharing or distributing non-consensual images is a Class II-A felony, and is also a registrable offense;

If the pictures were taken with, or saved and stored on a state-issued laptop computer, or some other state computer, then this is probably Official Misconduct, or misuse of state property, in violation of Section 28-924. I have not read all of the rules and regulations relating to senators’ use of computers, but I am sure that in no way is it permissible to take and/or store surreptitious pictures of young female staff with state computer equipment;

● If Senator Groene, or any other state senator, tried to dissuade or encourage the staff person to withhold any testimony, information, document or thing, or not cooperate in an investigation relating to the complaint she made against Senator Groene, then this could be witness tampering in violation of Section 28-919.

This is not an exhaustive list, as I have only done a cursory review of the statutes.

I urge you to investigate this matter promptly and thoroughly. You represent the leadership of our state’s law enforcement and staff security at the Capitol Building. This issue deserves your attention in the highest priority.

What happens now

According to the Omaha World-Herald, Republican Governor Pete Ricketts will get to appoint a replacement for Groene until a new election can take place. But there are three people currently running for what would’ve been an open seat in a conservative district later this year. With Groene’s resignation, it’s possible others will jump into the race as well before the March 1 deadline.

While I can’t offer any predictions about that race, it’s hard to imagine that Groene’s religious hypocrisy will be the focal point for anyone’s campaign. Christian supremacy is taken for granted in large swaths of America, and when a Christian lawmaker resigns in disgrace, it’s always the individual’s fault, never the religion’s.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.