Congressional Members Warn About Speaker Johnson’s ‘Troubling’ Christian Nationalism - Word&Way

Congressional Members Warn About Speaker Johnson’s ‘Troubling’ Christian Nationalism

Last week, a group of congressional representatives released a white paper and held a briefing on Capitol Hill to document the Christian Nationalism of Speaker Mike Johnson. The report from the Congressional Freethought Caucus documents several areas where they are concerned about Johnson’s record on religious freedom — and the report cites two articles from A Public Witness.

“Although new information continues to surface virtually every day about Speaker Johnson’s record on religious freedom and church-state separation, what we already know is troubling and alarming,” the CFC report offers. “Speaker Johnson is deeply connected in political practice and philosophy to Christian Nationalism, more so than any other speaker in American history. He has spent decades working to deny, reject, and undermine the constitutional separation of church and state, including trafficking in fake histories about our nation’s founding and distorting the meaning of the Establishment Clause. He has spent much of his career trying to impose sectarian-based moral codes on others.”

The CFC was founded in 2018 and has been led by Rep. Jared Huffman of California and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland. Huffman is the only member of Congress who describes himself as a humanist and openly admits to not believing in God. Raskin is Jewish, and the CFC includes members who identify as Christian, Muslim, and other faith traditions. The other two founding members — Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan and then-Rep. Gerald McNerney of California — are both Catholic.

Other CFC members today include Rep. Zoe Lofgren (a Lutheran) of California and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (an Episcopalian) from Washington, D.C. What unites the 20 current members — all Democrats — is a commitment to form public policy “based on facts, science, and reason,” support church-state separation, and oppose discrimination against atheists or other people because of religion in the U.S. and abroad.

The CFC formed in response to concerns about the influence the Christian Right was having on public policy. In 2005, then-Rep. Randy Forbes (a Baptist) of Virginia created the Congressional Prayer Caucus to promote prayer among members and legislative efforts to back conservative Christianity. Its membership has been close to 100 and nearly all Republican. Today, it is led by Rep. Mike Allen of Georgia, who is a member of a Methodist congregation that recently left the United Methodist Church to join a new Methodist body opposed to same-sex marriage.

Given its history and focus, the CFC sought to dialogue with Johnson, a Baptist from Louisiana, after his election as speaker. But CFC leaders say Johnson rejected their requests for a conversation about church-state issues, so they instead created their report about his “alarming” and “extremist” Christian Nationalism to raise questions they hope he will address.

Rep. Mike Johnson addresses members of the House of Representatives after his election as House speaker on Oct. 25, 2023. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

“We respect, celebrate, and treasure his right — and the right of every American — to freely practice his faith as guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, apart from the freedom to pursue his individual private faith, Speaker Johnson’s public record on the religious freedom of other Americans raises troubling questions,” the CFC report explains. “Like most Americans, we do not want to live in a theocracy. No matter the circumstances, the CFC will continue to defend the separation of church and state and to stand up for the rights and liberties of all religious and non-religious Americans.”

In addition to releasing the report, the CFC also held a briefing on Capitol Hill last week to hear from three experts on how Christian Nationalism threatens democracy. So this issue of A Public Witness will take you inside both the report and the event to see how some members of the House of Representatives are paying attention to Christian Nationalism (and reading A Public Witness).

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