As briefly noted yesterday, Thursday was an eventful day for church, state, and everything in between.
Let’s start in the realm of less-bad news: Father Patrick Conroy, House Chaplain, sent a letter rescinding his previous letter of resignation to Paul Ryan, House Invertebrate, who had canned him either (a) for not being an evangelical, as he was told by Ryan’s aide, or (b) for the not-super-enthusiastic-about-the-tax-bill prayer he offered during the tax bill debates in November, as he was told by Ryan himself. (See video below for full prayer that shows concern for the poor.).
Ryan accepted his de-resignation and Conroy will remain House Chaplain.
Speaking of prayer and things Paul Ryan has chosen to accept… Donald Trump gave what passes these days as a “speech” on the National Day of Prayer (after typing up several tweets regarding funneling money to re-pay his "fixer" for fronting hush money to cover up an affair with a porn star while his 3rd wife was recovering from the birth of their child) during which he announced an executive order that established a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative (one of two things he did yesterday).
As WaPo reported:
President Trump in a Rose Garden ceremony Thursday announced an executive order he said would expand government grants to and partnerships with religiously-affiliated groups through a new faith-based office — a move described by one of his top faith advisers as aimed at changing the culture to produce fewer discussions about church-state barriers with “all of these arbitrary concerns as to what is appropriate.”
I’m looking forward to the day when Trump finally just changes the name of “The Constitution of the United States of America” to “Arbitrary Concerns as to What Is Appropriate.” We should start a betting pool as to when that will happen.
The past several administrations have had similar faith-based offices, so the idea is not new. However, the language used in the speech and in the order has alarmed LGBTQI groups, who fear that this will be used to erode their hard-won rights in the name of religious freedom. Many religious groups are expressing concern that the order endangers the separation of church and state. Such concerns are well-founded. Trump described the Johnson Amendment in yesterday’s speech as “a disaster.” Moreover, the initiative is largely the result of Trump’s conservative Evangelical Advisory Board. As NY Magazine noted:
In line with Trump’s loud-and-proud advocacy of the political views of conservative Christians, his new faith-based office will apparently focus on policing agencies to make sure there is no interference with participation by church-sponsored organizations, and no transgressions against the “liberty of conscience” of believers. This is a term, of course, that both political and religious conservatives these days construe very broadly to sanction all sorts of exclusive and exclusionary demands, even in the use of federal funds.
In addition to announcing the executive order in yesterday’s remarks, Trump also took credit for how frequently people are now saying “under God” when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (not to be confused with the pledge of loyalty), touted having saved Christmas, portrayed solitary confinement as a good opportunity for God to “find” people, and re-affirmed his commitment to religious freedom and to ending religious persecution (ahem… Muslim ban… ahem).
Mike Pence said yesterday, "There's prayer going on, on a regular basis, in this White House."
Given the variety of legal developments in just the past 24 hours, I’m guessing there’s prayer going on, on a constant basis, in this White House.
The text of the executive order can be found here. You can find the speech, if you're so inclined, here.