Religious Minorities

New House Speaker Mike Johnson has a long track record of embracing Christian Nationalism

  Rob Boston

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) was elected speaker of the House of Representatives yesterday. Many reporters are focusing on his role as a 2020 election denier, but that’s just the beginning: Johnson holds many alarming views.

Johnson, a former attorney for the Christian Nationalist legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-reproductive freedom. He peddles misinformation about separation of church and state.

Yesterday afternoon, several AU staff members spent some time digging into Johnson’s record. Here are some things we found:

Johnson parrots Christian Nationalist views on separation of church and state: In a Facebook post, Johnson wrongly claimed that Thomas Jefferson didn’t really support church-state separation. “Jefferson clearly did not mean that metaphorical ‘wall’ was to keep religion from influencing issues of civil government,” Johnson wrote. “To the contrary, it was meant to keep the federal government from impeding the religious practice of citizens. The Founders wanted to protect the church from an encroaching state, not the other way around.”

During a 2022 podcast, Johnson claimed that America is the only country in the world founded upon a “religious statement of faith” – a claim that’s demonstrably false.

Johnson regularly posts Bible verses and other religious content on his official Facebook page. He’s closely aligned with creationist Ken Ham and backed Ham’s raid on taxpayer funds to build his evangelistic Ark Park in Kentucky. He has also praised the notorious “Christian nation” fake “historian” David Barton, calling him “a profound influence on me and my work and my life and everything I do.”

Johnson has promoted evangelical Christianity in public schools: In 2002, Johnson advocated for a Bible course created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools that was offered in eight Louisiana parishes. The course, which was widely panned by legitimate scholars of the Bible, was heavily skewed toward Protestant evangelical Christianity, treated “the Bible as an accurate record of history,” and was a “thinly veiled” attempt to push Christianity in public schools. Johnson told the media that the “Supreme Court did not say you have to discuss everybody’s view on the Bible.” Requiring that public schools treat all religious traditions equally, Johnson said, is “the height of political correctness.”

Johnson believes courthouses should be able to display religious symbols: In 2008, Johnson defended the display of a portrait of Jesus in a Slidell, La., courthouse, arguing that its purpose was to “use art to emphasize the importance of following the law in order to have a peaceful society.” He said that the Jesus painting “clearly delivers an inclusive message of equal justice under law. The ideas expressed in this painting aren’t specific to any one faith, and they certainly don’t establish a single state religion.”

Johnson says houses of worship should be able to intervene in partisan elections: At the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in 2017, Johnson backed weakening or repealing a provision in federal law that bars tax-exempt, non-profit groups, including houses of worship, from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.

“We need to unshackle the voice of the church again,” said Johnson, who claimed the law silences and censors houses of worship. He said changing the law “could be a game changer.”

Johnson was a lead co-sponsor, with U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), of the Free Speech and Fairness Act in 2017 to repeal the law. When ADF openly called on preachers to defy the law in 2008, Johnson told WND the goal really is to “take the muzzle off” Christian churches. “We’re reminding them that they have the right to openly discuss the positions of political candidates, and we’re going to be there for them if there’s a challenge,” he said. “There’s a very aggressive campaign to unlawfully silence the church,” he said.

Johnson has a long record of attacking LGBTQ+ rights: Johnson defended Louisiana’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples, the Louisiana Marriage Protection Amendment, in court. In 2015, as state legislator in Louisiana, Johnson introduced a First Amendment Defense Act-style bill (HB 707) that would have created a broad religious exemption to license discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/gender identity.

In 2003, he wrote an op-ed criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated state laws making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in sexual activity. He called the decision a blow to “fundamental American values and a millennia of moral teaching” and said, “proscriptions against sodomy have deep roots in religion, politics, and law.”

In a 2004 op-ed, Johnson called for amending Louisiana’s Constitution to ban marriage equality. He asserted that “the extremists who seek to redefine marriage also want to deny you the right to object to immoral behavior. Our precious religious freedom hangs in the balance.” He continued: “God loves every sinner, but we model true compassion when we remain ‘pro-traditional marriage’ and conscientiously opposed to all deviations from it. This follows common sense and five millennia of moral teaching.” He called homosexuality an “inherently unnatural” and “dangerous lifestyle” that would lead to legalized pedophilia and possibly even destroy “the entire democratic system.”

Johnson has long worked to make abortion illegal and curtail access to birth control: While at ADF, Johnson wrote a letter to shut down an abortion clinic. In 2012, Johnson represented Louisiana College in its challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement. “This mandate,” he said, “offers no choice; Americans either comply and abandon their convictions or resist and be punished.”

He was co-counsel representing the state of Louisiana to defend a law (Act 620) that would have prevented doctors from providing abortion services in the state unless they secured admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they provide abortion care. This law was designed to close clinics and undermine access to abortion. As a member of the House, he has cosponsored several bills that would ban abortion nationwide.

This is your new House speaker, America. Buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Photo: House Republicans surround U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (center). By Alex Wong/Getty Images

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