The State Department on Monday was accused of blatantly violating the constitutional principle of separation of religion and government by plastering the homepage of its website with an October 11 speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touting his Christian faith.
"He cannot use his government position to impose his faith on the rest of us—that is a fundamental violation of the separation of religion and government."
—Rachel Laser, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Pompeo delivered his "Being a Christian Leader" address to a gathering of the American Association of Christian Counselors last Friday in Nashville, Tennessee. The Secretary of State's trip to Nashville was funded by U.S. taxpayers.
Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Pompeo's speech and the State Department's promotion of it were both clear violations of the Constitution.
"It's perfectly fine for Secretary Pompeo to be a leader who is Christian," Laser said in a statement. "But he cannot use his government position to impose his faith on the rest of us—that is a fundamental violation of the separation of religion and government."
"Secretary Pompeo’s speech on how being a Christian leader informs his decision-making and the posting of the speech on the State Department website send the clear message that U.S. public policy will be guided by his personal religious beliefs," said Laser. "This is yet another example of Trump administration officials catering to the president's base of Christian nationalist supporters."
Current State Department homepage:
A number of current and former diplomats have reached out to me to express unease over how this is being branded and promoted, given US govt lines separating church and state
You can read his speech in full here: https://t.co/JiCMkuXy3l pic.twitter.com/tilGZSu4GB
— Robbie Gramer (@RobbieGramer) October 14, 2019
After hours of criticism, the State Department on Monday afternoon changed the frontpage headline of Pompeo's speech to "Secretary Pompeo at the America Association of Christian Counselors." The speech was moved off the homepage entirely Monday night.
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During his address, Pompeo appeared to preemptively brush aside concerns that he is blurring the lines separating religion and government.
"I know some people in the media will break out the pitchforks when they hear that I ask God for direction in my work," said Pompeo, an evangelical Christian with a long record of religious bigotry against Muslims.
Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Newsweek that it is perfectly acceptable for Pompeo to "speak at religious events, put on by religious organizations—we would expect public officials to speak at Muslim-sponsored events."
"But I think it's really inappropriate for him to title his speech 'Being a Christian Leader,'" said Hooper, "because he shouldn't be a Christian leader, he should be an American leader. He should be somebody who is leading a nation of people who have different faiths and no faiths."
American Atheists president Nick Fish echoed Hooper in a statement.
"Given Secretary Pompeo's record, it comes as no surprise that the State Department is using taxpayer money to promote Christian nationalist talking points," Fish said. "The Department of State looks more like it should be representing the Republic of Gilead from The Handmaid's Tale than an America that respects religious equality under the law."