September 2016 Church & State | People & Events

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump in July selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, a move signaling that the 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.

Americans United issued a press statement noting that Pence is a favorite of the Religious Right. A former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Pence 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).

In 2010, Pence told VVS attendees, “Our present crisis is not merely economic and political but spiritual” and insisted that economic concerns can never trump moral principles. He also vowed that the GOP will remain focused on opposing legal abortion and marriage equality.

In 2011, Pence said something  similar while addressing 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.

AU also noted that Pence has a long history of trying to restrict Americans’ access to the courts in church-state cases. In 2003, when he was in the House, 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, which would have amended federal 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.

Pence is a big fan of posting religious mottos on government buildings. In 2011, he backed 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.”

As governor of Indiana, Pence has been criticized for failing to support public education. Under his governorship, Indiana passed a sweeping school voucher bill that Americans United and other critics said funnels taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private and religious schools.

But Pence is perhaps best known for his opposition to 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.