October 2018 Church & State | Editorial

The response to Americans Uni­ted’s assertion that President Don­ald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board is violating federal law by meeting in secret has been unusual, to say the least: Members of the board assert that it doesn’t actually exist!

The claim, being made primarily by Johnnie Moore, the board’s spokes­man, is nothing short of ridiculous.

As Americans United noted in its letter to government officials, members of the board have been boasting about the influence and power they have over the Trump administration. Moore himself has bragged that the advisory board has a “pretty significant” hand in “directing or affecting” administration policy. These include, according to Moore, “policy and personnel decisions particularly affecting religious liberty, judges, the right to life and foreign policy.”

The advisory board persuaded Trump to reverse an Obama-era policy allowing transgender troops to serve in the military, and it had significant input over a Trump executive order that established a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Trump’s efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a federal law that protects the integrity of houses of worship by keeping nonprofits out of electoral politics – although so far unsuccessful – also came at the board’s behest.

Most recently, the advisory board met with Trump at the White House on Aug. 27 to discuss issues “such as religious freedom, immigration reform, criminal justice and prison reform and judicial nominations.” Later that evening, Trump held a dinner in the board’s honor. During the event, attendees offered effusive praise for all Trump has done for them.

That’s quite a lot of activity for an advisory board that doesn’t exist!

Claims that the board doesn’t do anything, that it’s informal or that it’s not even real are agreed-upon falsehoods that board members have decided to use to get around the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), a 1972 law that requires transparency and public access when it comes to advisory boards.

In fact, AU’s letter makes the case quite convincingly that the advisory board has substantial influence on this administration and its policy decisions. These actions have the potential to affect us all, but they are being crafted by adherents to a narrow slice of Christianity, men and women who are in no way representative of the broader American faith community (not to mention the non-faith community).

 Using the federal Freedom of Information Act, Americans United is gathering more information about Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board. These documents will likely shed further light on the board’s doings.

Trump’s band of ultra-conservative fundamentalist allies long to create policies that compel all Americans to adhere to the theological rules of a few, on pain of punishment. It’s bad enough that this is happening. That it’s occurring in the shadows is intolerable, and AU intends to bring a big dose of sunlight to these proceedings.