Donald Trump has announced that he plans to put Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on his ticket. This selection signals that Trump, a controversial real estate mogul and reality TV star, is continuing his aggressive courting of the Religious Right, in the hopes of achieving victory this fall.
Whether it will work remains to be seen. In the meantime, here are some things to keep in mind about Pence:
He has a close relationship with the Religious Right: Pence, a former member of the House of Representatives, spoke to the Christian Coalition in 2004 and more recently has made several appearances before the Values Voter Summit (VVS), a conference sponsored every fall in Washington, D.C., by the Family Research Council (FRC).
At these gatherings, Pence frequently hammers home the theme that the nation is in a spiritual crisis. In 2010, he told VVS attendees, “Our present crisis is not merely economic and political but spiritual” and insisted that the economic concerns can never trump moral principles, vowing that the GOP will remain focused on opposing legal abortion and marriage equality.
In 2011, Pence said something very similar to the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group run by former Christian Coalition operative Ralph Reed. “To have a lasting victory for our values, we have to recognize that the present crisis is not just economic and political but moral in nature,” Pence said. “The truth is, we’ve got to get back to basics. We will not solve the crisis facing this country economically or politically by public policy alone. It will require public virtue…. We must again say yes to the importance of organized religion in our everyday life.”
The FRC rates Pence “True Blue,” which means he has voted in accordance with that group 100 percent of the time.
Tough Talk: Pence speaking at the Values Voter Summit in 2010.
Pence has a long history of trying to restrict Americans’ access to the courts in church-state cases: In 2003, Pence co-sponsored U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt’s (R-Ala.) “Ten Commandments Defense Act.” Among other things, this reckless “states’ rights” bill would have ordered the federal courts to stay out of lawsuits challenging government-backed Ten Commandments displays in the states. Under the law, people who were offended by such displays would have had no ability to challenge them in court.
In 2004, Pence backed a package of bills introduced by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Among the bills was a measure designed to strip the federal courts of the power to hear certain types of church-state cases. Pence told Family News in Focus that the bill would “bring an end to the judicial activism that has resulted almost in legislating from the bench.”
Later that year, Pence introduced a bill written by Roy Moore, the infamous Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, that would have amended U.S. law to strip the U.S. Supreme Court’s power to hear cases involving government “acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.” The measure, which would have applied to cases retroactively and thus nullified decades of church-state law, would also have forbidden lower federal courts from hearing such disputes.
He believes religious mottos should be displayed in public schools and government buildings: In 2011, Pence endorsed a House measure endorsing the display of “In God We Trust” signs in public facilities. The vote, clearly designed to placate the Religious Right, was important, Pence said, because, “I think God…rewards those, including nations, who earnestly seek him.”
Pence is no friend of public education: Under his governorship, Indiana passed a sweeping school voucher bill that Americans United and other critics say funnels taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private and religious schools.
He’s a sworn enemy of LGBT rights: As governor, Pence in 2015 signed into law an extreme measure that purported to protect “religious freedom” but that in reality gave citizens of Indiana the right to use religion as a pretext to discriminate. When Pence signed the law, he was flanked by several anti-LGBT activists. An ensuing national backlash and threats of boycotts consumed the country for days. Under duress, Pence agreed to alter the legislation.
Some in the Religious Right are still angry that Pence gave in on that issue, but prominent figures like Gary Bauer and Richard Land have made it clear that they believe Pence would be a great addition to the GOP ticket.
Pence has been a darling of the Religious Right for many years. Now that he has been named Trump's veep, Pence will undoubtedly be subjected to great scrutiny. A look at his track record on the right of conscience and church-state separation shows one thing clearly: It’s deeply troubling.