Members of the Trump administration, as well as the president himself, spent time last month pushing Christian nationalism in a series of speeches.
The first out of the gate was Attorney General William Barr, who gave a speech at the University of Notre Dame Oct. 11 during which he attacked secular government. Barr asserted that a band of “militant secularists” have attempted to drive religion from public life, and as a result, spawned a host of social ills.
Barr also asserted that only religious people are fit to be Americans.
“In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and manmade law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles,” Barr told the crowd.
Such sentiments are nothing new for Barr. During his tenure as attorney general during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Barr frequently attacked secular government. During a Milwaukee address to a conference on juvenile crime on April 1, 1992, Barr blasted public schools for failing to provide moral instruction.
“This moral lobotomy of public schools has been based on extremist notions of separation of church and state or on theories of moral relativism which reject the notion that there are standards of right and wrong to which the community can demand adherence,” Barr said. (See “Seeking God’s Law,” January 2019 Church & State.)
Syndicated columnist Catherine Rampell called Barr’s speech at Notre Dame “a tacit endorsement of theocracy.”
The same day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed a gathering of the American Association of Christian Counselors in Nashville. Pompeo’s speech, titled “Being A Christian Leader,” was prominently featured on the State Department’s home page. In the speech, Pompeo openly boasted about making decisions based on his interpretation of Christian principles – an interpretation that millions of Americans, including many who are Christian, disagree with.
In a statement to the media, AU President and CEO Rachel Laser criticized Pompeo for the remarks.
“Secretary Pompeo’s speech on how being a Christian leader informs his decision-making and the posting of the speech on the State Department website send the clear message that U.S. public policy will be guided by his personal religious beliefs,” Laser asserted.
The following day, Trump attended a banquet during the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of the Religious Right in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Family Research Council and other groups.
During his remarks, Trump defended his administration’s policy in Syria against charges that the U.S. has abandoned our allies the Kurds and the country’s Christian minority and given new life to the terror group ISIS. Trump, who portrayed himself as a great champion of Christian values, was warmly received at the event.
“Now, powered by those same historic values that have always defined our nation, we will reach new heights, make new breakthroughs and we will strengthen the bonds of love and loyalty that unite us all as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots, as Christians, as people of faith,” Trump said at the conclusion of his speech. “As one people, one nation and one United States of America, we will stand as a light of liberty, a land of courage and a home for proud people of faith. Forever and always, Americans will believe in the cause of freedom, the power of prayer and the eternal glory of God.”
Writing on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog, Church & State Editor Rob Boston question the timing of these speeches, noting that they came during a period when the administration was under fire for various misdeeds and an impeachment inquiry had been opened against Trump.
“You don’t have to be a cynic to question the timing of this eruption of God talk,” Boston wrote. “We have an administration that claims to be championing Christian values at a time when news headlines every day expose more rot and corruption within it.”