United States President Donald Trump and Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning, emphasizing their support for the merger of religion and politics. Last year, Mr. Trump promised to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which bans churches from endorsing political candidates. He later signed an executive order in support of his position.
At the Thursday event, Scalise declared, “This was a nation not founded on agnostic views. You can’t separate church from state.” He cited Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president.
The statement raised eyebrows among scholars, since Jefferson was notable for his belief that church and state should be separate. Even Mark David Hall of conservative leaning Heritage Foundation has stated about Jefferson:
The point is not that Jefferson was a pious man who wanted a union between church and state. His private letters make it clear that he was not an orthodox Christian, and his public arguments and actions demonstrate that he favored a stricter separation between church and state than virtually any other Founder.
Republicans have long appeared to promote the idea that America’s founding was based on Christian ideals, ignoring Thomas Paine’s highly influential deistic treaty, The Age of Reason, and Jefferson’s naturalistic mention of, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” in the Declaration of Independence.
Scholars tend to agree that America’s founders – especially Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton – were rationalists who were either deists themselves or at least highly influenced by the deism of intellectuals like Paine and others. Ironically, some writers suggest that many of America’s founders would be unelectable today due to their rationalistic views. Certainly, history’s version of facts about America’s founders would make them particularly unappealing to Republicans like Mr. Trump and Mr. Scalise.