The country witnessed two horrific mass shootings over the weekend, one in El Paso, Texas, and another in Dayton, Ohio. Our hearts are heavy as we contemplate the pain and suffering endured by the families and loved ones of the victims.

It’s also natural to ask why this happens so often. Every time it does happen, religious extremists and misguided politicians are quick to blame the incidents on a lack of government-enforced religion.

No matter your stand on gun control (which is not an issue Americans United addresses), this must be recognized as an offensive and reckless tactic. Separation of church and state is not to blame for these appalling acts of violence.

Nevertheless, we keep hearing comments like these:

* Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick mostly blamed violent video games during a “Fox & Friends” appearance but added, “I look at, on Sunday morning, when most of your viewers right now, half of the country, are getting ready to go to church, and yet tomorrow, we won’t let our kids even pray in our schools…”  

* Commenting on the El Paso shooting, former Arkansas governor and failed presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, told Fox News, “[L]et’s be real clear. The common denominator in all of this is not the particular weapon. It’s the hate inside the heart. It’s the loss of morality. It’s that disconnecting from a God who values all people and who would never let me do that to another person, because I would be basically doing it to God and to myself. ... [W]e’ve got a lot of our country that are utterly disconnected from any sense of identity with their Creator and with his love for them and his love for the people that they hate.”

* State Rep. Candice Keller, a Republican from Butler County, Ohio, about 30 miles south of Dayton, went completely around the bend. She blamed the incidents on, among other things, “the breakdown of the traditional American family, (thank you, transgender, homosexual marriage, and drag queen advocates),” professional athletes who fail to stand for the National Anthem, former President Barack Obama and “the culture, which totally ignores the importance of God and the church.”

In the wake of the shootings, there has been a lot of discussion about what role President Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about race might have played. The El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius, left behind a disturbing manifesto outlining racist ideas and asserting, “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Trump insists he shouldn’t be blamed, even though he has repeatedly demonized Latino immigrants before crowds of his followers and has used Twitter to spread racist ideas. During a May rally in northwest Florida, Trump asked the crowd what should be done about Latinos approaching the border to seek asylum in the United States. When a man yelled out, “Shoot them!” Trump shook his head, laughed and replied, “That’s only in the panhandle you can get away with that statement!” Just a few weeks ago, Trump tweeted that four brown-skinned members of Congress should “go back” to the countries they came from – even though all are citizens and three were born in the United States.

The nation will continue to debate Trump’s culpability for these incidents of domestic terrorism, but one thing should be clear: He’s a much more likely suspect than the First Amendment.

(Photo: Screenshot of Mike Huckabee from Fox News Channel)