On Thursday, the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the White House, demanding that President Donald Trump shut down his “Evangelical Advisory Board.” Evangelical advisors to President Trump insisted that no such board exists, and that the letter is nothing more than a fundraising stunt.
“The evangelical pastors and leaders who occasionally meet with President Trump and provide informal input into the administration are engaged in the same activities that President Obama did with pastors and leaders of groups like Planned Parenthood,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), told PJ Media.
“The only difference is that President Trump has reached out to conservatives, not liberals,” Perkins added. He concluded with an inversion of Americans United’s name: “Where has Americans Divided been for the last 8 years?”
Johnnie Moore, founder and CEO of The Kairos Company and the spokesman for the campaign group, insisted that no such “Evangelical Advisory Board” exists today.
“There has never been — and I know of no plans for there to be — a White House Faith or Evangelical Council,” Moore told PJ Media in remarks he also gave to Religion News Service. “It is hard to shut something down that doesn’t exist!”
Moore explained why some groups like Americans United would think an Evangelical Advisory Board might exist. “Some members of the press innocently chose to carry over language used in the campaign into coverage of the administration, but that campaign council was officially disbanded after the campaign,” he said. “Those of us associated with that original group — which I might add wasn’t even required to endorse candidate Trump — have been consistent in stating that no such council exists in the actual administration.”
If there is no such council or board, why did Americans United publicly attack it? For publicity and fundraising, the Kairos CEO suggested.
“Forgive my cynicism, but this appears to be principally a fundraising ploy on behalf of the Americans United, and an attempt to intimidate certain people of faith,” Moore said.
He argued that the Americans United campaign “has a certain bigotry baked into it which fails to acknowledge the diversity in the Evangelical community.” The anti-religion group “reduces the entire evangelical community to a stereotype.”
“Almost no Evangelical in America believes in establishing a theocracy and evangelicals have not only been fierce advocates for the First Amendment and the dignity of human life but also for criminal justice reform, DACA recipients, paid family leave, doubling the child tax credit, and many of us publicly opposed the attorney general’s policy of separating families at the border, especially when he used the Bible to justify it,” Moore added.
Indeed, the Kairos CEO celebrated Americans United’s “vibrant use of the First Amendment because evangelicals have consistently fought for the preservation of the First Amendment precisely because we believe in the marketplace of ideas.”
“We even fought for the First Amendment rights of those who will disagree with us on religious grounds,” Moore added. “You are not for religious freedom at all unless you are for religious freedom for all, even those who have no faith at all.”
As for the Americans United letter, a fundraising email sent late Thursday night suggests it may indeed have been a scheme to raise money. The email encouraged recipients to “help us hold them accountable by donating now in support of all our urgent efforts,” thanking “your support,” and urging readers to “provide your strongest possible financial support so that we can continue to investigate, uncover and stop these illegal activities that threaten religious freedom.”
Beneath the signature of Americans United President & CEO Rachel K. Laser comes one final “DONATE” button.
On Thursday, the Washington Post‘s Lori Johnston covered Americans United’s letter, noting the White House meeting of evangelical pastors earlier this week. Johnston noted that Americans United claims the “Evangelical Advisory Board” operates in secret, violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
“We are tired of watching him give unprecedented access and influence to one religious group. And we’re tired of the secrecy. We’re asking them to shut down,” Laser told the Washington Post.
The group of evangelicals “would not have legal standing under FACA if it is just focused on providing him spiritual guidance and consolation,” George Washington University professor Robert Tuttle told the Washington Post.
The anti-religion group argued that the evangelicals fit under the scope of FACA “because it has received policy briefings and provided formal advice and recommendations to Trump. The board has been involved in personnel and policy decisions on religious liberty and judicial appointments, Laser said.”
It will be interesting to see how the administration responds. Whether or not it does, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is certain to ask for more money.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.