Donald Trump’s administration has a complicated relationship with the First Amendment.While the president repeatedly attacks the freedom of the press with cries of “fake news” and has threatened to revoke broadcasting licenses, many of his underlings also question just how much separation should exist between government and religion — or if any should exist at all.But “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” right?
Here’s what seven members of the Trump administration have to say about that.
Sessions, a notoriously devout Christian, called the separation of church and state “a recent thing that is unhistorical and unconstitutional,” during an interview with The Alabama Baptist as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1997.He also suggested a “constitutional change” to remedy the issue.Sessions later gave his own interpretation of the establishment clause during Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s remembrance ceremony last year in Congress: “Because the Constitution says we shall not establish a religion — Congress shall not establish a religion. It doesn’t say states couldn’t establish a religion.”READ: Meet the Christian group that helped write Jeff Sessions’ “religious freedom” policy
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
“Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom,” Devos told The Gathering, an annual conference for Christian philanthropy, in 2001.The term “Shephelah” refers to biblical lands where battles were fought in the Old Testament. According to Politico, which obtained audio recording of the speech, DeVos and her husband were talking about their plans to reform America’s education system, which had “displaced” the Church — a trend school choice can reverse, they said.
Through her family’s nonprofits, DeVos has also poured millions of dollars into groups that support teaching “intelligent design,” a right-wing code word for creationism, in schools.
Vice President Mike Pence
“Now that we have recognized evolution as a theory, I would simply and humbly ask, can we teach it as such, and can we also consider teaching other theories of the origin of species?” Pence said in a speech to the House of Representatives as a congressman in 2002.The speech, called the Theory of the Origin of Man, meant to highlight that evolution is just a theory and shouldn’t be taught in schools without the Bible’s explanation, too. Pence — who apparently calls his wife “Mother” and won’t eat alone with other women — even suggested textbooks would need to be changed.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson
“There are those who go around proclaiming separation of church and state. You can’t put anything up that has anything to do with God .… I’ll have a seizure if I see a cross and all of this kind of crap,” Carson said during a February 2016 rally as a Republican presidential nominee. “The fact of the matter is — do they realize that our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, says we have certain unalienable rights given to us by our creator, aka, God.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt
“[The Founding Fathers] put those clauses next to one another seamlessly to achieve the same end: to ensure that government would be kept out of religion, not religion out of government,” Pruitt said during a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary board of trustees meeting as Oklahoma’s attorney general.
At the time, Pruitt was also fighting Oklahoma’s Supreme Court to keep the a monument to the Ten Commandments at the state’s Capitol.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
“We have come together, very simply, for one reason and one reason only: to very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm,” Perdue said as governor of Georgia in 2007.He had hosted a public prayer on the steps of state’s Capitol … for rain.Not only did Perdue face backlash and protests for bringing religion onto government grounds, the drought intensified.
President Donald Trump
Even the president has exercised his authority to try to bring religious influence into government.“I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear and retribution,” the president said while signing his Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty on May 4, the first National Prayer Day at the White House.The order directed the Internal Revenue Service to exercise as much discretion as possible when enforcing the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations, like churches, from endorsing any political candidate or participating in campaigns.READ: Neil Gorsuch’s first term fulfilled conservatives’ wildest dreams