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New House speaker built career as legal advocate for conservative religious values
He frequently refers to ‘so-called separation of church and state’
The U.S. House today elected as its speaker one of the nation’s leading advocates for a politically and socially conservative view of the relationship between church and state.
U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) was elected speaker on a 220-209 vote, ending three weeks of political chaos where the House was politically paralyzed without anyone holding that office.
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Johnson is one of those politicians who wears his evangelical Christian faith on his sleeve. “I am a Christian, a husband, a father, a life-long conservative, constitutional law attorney and a small business owner in that order,” he told the Louisiana Baptist Message when he first ran for the U.S. House in 2016, a description he continues to frequently use for himself.
Johnson has never been shy about injecting his religious views into political life. In fact, he spent much of his pre-Congressional career as a constitutional rights attorney, frequently focusing on church-state issues championing the issues most important to religious conservatives.
“I was called to legal ministry and I’ve been out on the front lines of the ‘culture war’ defending religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and biblical values, including the defense of traditional marriage, and other ideals like these when they’ve been under assault,” he said in that 2016 interview. He has not deviated from that perspective since then.
Although he has become known in recent days for helping former President Donald Trump attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, he built his legal career as a constitutional-rights attorney on church-state issues. He often spoke on behalf of the Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the country’s best-known organizations opposing laws it sees as impinging on religious freedom. He told the House in an April speech that the subject of church-state relations is one of his favorites to talk about and is “among the most misunderstood subjects in our entire culture.”
In that speech he pointed out that the phrase “separation of church and state” comes “not from the Constitution itself of course, but from a personal letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote. Jefferson, he said, “clearly did not mean that the metaphorical wall was to keep religion from influencing issues of civil government. To the contrary, it was meant to keep the federal government from impeding the religious practice of citizens.”
During that speech, John used the “scare quotes” gesture when using the word “separation” in “separation of church and state.”
Among the issues Johnson has championed are opposition to same-sex marriage, support for a national ban on abortion and the right of students to share their religious viewpoints at school.
Update (Oct. 23, 2023)
Since his selection, the religious motivations for Johnson’s politics have become increasingly clear.
Johnson yesterday said directly that his political views come from the Bible. “[G]o pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it – that’s my worldview,” he was quoted as saying in The Guardian. “That’s what I believe and so I make no apologies for it.”
He also said specifically that his anti-LGTBQ views come from the Bible, but that he “genuinely love[s] all people regardless of their lifestyle choices.”