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President Mike Johnson says separation of church and state is a ‘misnomer’


WASHINGTON — House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., explained Tuesday his long-held view that the concept of separation of church and state is often misinterpreted.

“Separation of church and state is a misnomer,” Johnson said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“People don’t understand that,” he continued. “Of course, that comes from a phrase that was in a letter that Jefferson wrote. It’s not in the Constitution. And what he was explaining was that they didn’t want the government to encroach on the ‘Church – not that they didn’t want principles of faith to have an influence on our public life. It’s exactly the opposite.

The question came after the host recalled that the new president prayed on the House floor after being sworn in to his new role last month.

Johnson suggested Tuesday that the nation’s founders believed religion and morality were at the heart of government.

“They knew it would be important to maintain our system,” he said. “And that’s why I think we need more of that – not the establishment of a national religion – but we need the vibrant expression of everyone’s faith because that’s such a important part of who we are as a nation.”

Although it is technically true that the words “separation of church and state” are not enshrined in the Constitution, many legal scholars have said that the phrase refers to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

For his part, Johnson has spent much of the past two decades defending religious freedom in public schools, in government, and in public places, primarily as an attorney for the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Fund, now known under the name Alliance Defending Freedom. .

In that role, he wrote in a 2006 op-ed that the ACLU and its allies had used what he called the “misleading” “metaphor” of separation of church and state to intimidate public officials and censor religious people.

“The Bible is and should be an appropriate curriculum in our public schools,” he wrote in another opinion piece in 2007. “Because it is the most widely read book, the most published and influential in history, he is censored. of the classroom is as imprudent as it is useless.”

In 2017, Johnson and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, also a Republican, created guidelines for the use of religion in schools, saying that studying the Bible or religion in schools public school is “perfectly legal,” echoing an argument made by Johnson. Before.

At an event for Landry students in 2018, Johnson told the audience that the separation of church and state is often taken out of context because it appears in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

“They were concerned that the state would interfere with their free exercise of religion,” Johnson said. “But Jefferson said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve separated the government so the government won’t interfere with your free exercise rights.'”

In 2019, Johnson expressed outrage during a House committee hearing when Democrats omitted “so help me, God” when swearing in witnesses. He later said it was part of a coordinated effort by Democrats to remove the phrase from language used in Congress.

“It’s important to me, personally, as a Christian, but I’m a constitutional lawyer and a history buff and it’s not controversial,” he told USA Today. “Everyone who hears about this should be outraged.”


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