First Amendment religious freedom groups and other religious organizations objected to an image featuring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the State Department’s official website on Monday, in which the head of the department was seen promoting Christian principles during a speech he gave in Nashville, Tennessee, last week.
The State Department website article describing Pompeo’s speech was entitled, “Being a Christian Leader.”
“As believers, we draw on the wisdom of God to help us get it right, to be a force for good in the life of human beings. I know some people in the media will break out the pitchforks when they hear that I ask God for direction in my work,” Pompeo said at the event, according to reporting from HuffPost.
Many organizations — including those promoting a separation of church and state, and those who represent religious minorities in the U.S. and abroad — were upset with the use of the State Department’s website to seemingly endorse Christian viewpoints. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that the government cannot impose any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
A statement from the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State denounced Pompeo’s actions, while also suggesting he had a right to “be a leader who is Christian,” so long as it didn’t influence his policy-making.
Pompeo “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,” AU’s statement read. “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.”
Critics of Mike Pompeo's speech about “Being a Christian Leader” have expressed their dismay at the remarks, and the promotion of the speech on the State Department's homepage. https://t.co/reigEucyaU
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) October 15, 2019
Others voiced their concerns about Pompeo’s speech and the State Department’s promotion of it, Newsweek reported, with some describing it as a disturbing pattern within the White House in general.
“It’s really important to note that this speech from Pompeo and the promotion of Christianity on the State.gov website is not operating in a vacuum,” American Humanist Association spokesperson Sarah Henry explained. “The Trump administration has a continued pattern of promoting Christian nationalism, and this is another example.”
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), explained that he and his organization were not opposed to Pompeo speaking at religious events per se, but that there were still concerns with the actions seen on Monday and last week.
“He can 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,’ because he shouldn’t be a Christian leader, he should be an American leader,” Hooper said. “He should be somebody who is leading a nation of people who have different faiths and no faiths.”