December 25, 2017

The Year the Religious Right Moved into the White House


President Trump hosts conservative leaders at the White House on September 25, 2017 (Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)


By Miranda Blue / 12.19.2017


Donald Trump wasn’t exactly the dream candidate of the Religious Right. Throughout the Republican primary contest, many in the social conservative movement urged voters to pick what one group of anti-choice activists called “anyone but Donald Trump.”

But once it became clear that Trump was going to win the GOP nomination, he started aggressively courting the evangelical Right, including holding a massive meeting for Religious Right leaders in New York that many cite as a turning point for their support. On the day of that meeting, Trump announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board that included Religious Right leaders including James Dobson and Michele Bachmann. Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as his running mate sealed the deal for many on the Religious Right. Trump’s “amen corner” of prosperity gospel preachers and domininionists eventually expanded to include the large share of Religious Right leaders, who offered various theological explanations for their embrace of a morally flawed candidate.

Once he was elected—with 80 percent of the white evangelical vote—Trump kept his evangelical advisory board intact and promised to give it unprecedented access to the White House. He stacked his Cabinet with friends of the Religious Right, including Tom Price at Health and Human Services, Betsy DeVos at Education and Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development. Far-right pastor Ralph Drollinger worked with Trump’s transition team to set up weekly Bible studies for Trump’s Cabinet members. The conservative Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society vetted potential judicial nominees.

The White House continues to hold weekly calls with evangelical advisory board members. Conservative leaders also receive a weekly email from the White House compiling “highlights for—and requests for action from—the conservative world.” And Religious Right leaders report enjoying an open door with the Trump administration. Former Southern Baptist Convention official Richard Land told The New York Times that conservative evangelical leaders have a “regular, ongoing and continuing dialogue” with the administration.

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said in August, “I’ve been to the White House I don’t know how many more times in the first six months this year than I was during the entire Bush administration.” The Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser said she visited the White House seven times in Trump’s first 100 days in office. Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America said in September, “I’m told from people before me that even under George W. Bush, we didn’t have this kind of access. It certainly is unprecedented and we’re very grateful.” Land gushed about evangelicals having “unprecedented access” to the White House, adding that there “are more evangelicals in this administration as personnel than any administration in my lifetime.”

In exchange for access and help on their policy priorities, Trump has earned the love of the Religious Right. Some called his election a miracle. Others determined that he must have personally come to Christ. Many have gone to bat for Trump’s most controversial comments and positions. An early campaign faith adviser started a group called POTUS Shield that is dedicated to shielding the president from spiritual attack.

This was the year the Religious Right moved into the White House. Below is a timeline of visits of Religious Right leaders to the White House, administration officials’ appearances at major Religious Right events, and policy decisions that were driven by or appeared to be gifts to the Religious Right. The list is, of course, incomplete. Because the White House is keeping its visitor logs secret, we could only track meetings that participants posted about on social media or which were made public to the press. There are also surely many more meetings, events and decisions that we have missed.

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January 20: Trump starts the day at a prayer service led by longtime backer Robert Jeffress, who explains how the Bible supports Trump’s call to build a wall and his attacks on the media. He is then inaugurated in a ceremony that includes prayers from his spiritual adviser Paula White, Religious Right leaders Franklin Graham and Samuel Rodriguez, and conservative New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan. That night, Religious Right groups celebrate with an inaugural ball hosted by the Family Research Council.

January 23: Trump reinstates and expands the Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule, which denies U.S. aid to NGOs that use other money to perform abortions, refer patients to abortion providers or advocate for abortion rights. Reinstating the policy was a top item on the wish list of Religious Right groups.

January 26: The night before the March for Life, Pence hosts 40 anti-choice leaders at the White House, including National Right to Life president Carol Tobias, Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins, conservative radio host Eric Metaxas and anti-choice activist Abby Johnson.

January 27: Pence and white House counselor Kellyanne Conway speak at the March for Life, where they trumpet the Mexico City Policy decision and make certain to spend plenty of time praising Trump:

January 27: Trump sits down for an interview with David Brody, a political correspondent with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, which has joined Fox News as a functional propaganda arm of the administration.

January 31: Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is in attendance. The Religious Right is thrilled.

February 2: Trump gathers conservative leadersincluding representatives from the NRA, the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Tax Reform, along with the Susan B. Anthony List’s Dannenfelser, Concerned Women for America’s Nance, National Right to Life’s David O’Steen, Charmaine Yoest of American Values and, of course, Paula White, to personally thank him for the Gorsuch nomination and to discuss the confirmation fight ahead.

February 23: The departments of justice and education withdraw protections for transgender studentsin public schools that had been implemented by the Obama administration. Religious Right groups express their gratitude.

March 13: Trump names “representatives from two intensely anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ groups, C-Fam and the Heritage Foundation, to be part of the official U.S. delegation to the session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.”

March 13: HHS announces its intention to eliminate “questions seeking to identify gay, lesbian and bisexual elders in a U.S. health survey.” The plan is later dropped.

March 24: ProPublica reports that the Trump administration has “quietly appointed” former Heritage Foundation official Roger Severino to head the HHS Office for Civil Rights.

March 29: The Census Bureau proposes and then quickly un-proposes counting LGBTQ people in the 2020 census.

April 7: Neil Gorsuch is confirmed to the Supreme Court.

April 10: Nance and Dannenfelser go to the White House to celebrate with Gorsuch.

April 13: Trump, flanked by Dannenfelser and Nance, signs a bill allowing states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood clinics. The bill was passed thanks to a tiebreaking vote from Pence.

Signing of pro-life bill hjres43 with @realdonaldtrump

A post shared by Penny Nance (@pynance1) on

April 14: The Justice Department drops a lawsuit against North Carolina over its discriminatory anti-trans “bathroom bill.”

April 28:Trump names Yoest, formerly the head of Americans United for Life, to the top public affairs job at the department of Health and Human Services.

May 2:  HHS confirms that former Family Research Council and National Right to Life Committee staffer Teresa Manning will take charge of its Title X family planning program.

May 3: Trump invites the members of his faith advisory board to a pre-National Day of Prayer dinner at the White House. Attendees include Jeffress, White, Graham, Jim Garlow, Metaxas, Land, Rodriguez, Dobson, former congresswoman and “pastor to the United Nations” Michele Bachmann, Mark Burns, Ralph Reed and others. Jeffress gets there early for an Oval Office photo op:

May 3: On the same night he attends the White House dinner with the evangelical leaders, Pence is the keynote speaker at a gala hosted by the Susan B. Anthony List. The vice president brings his greetings from the “great champion for life” Trump and thanks the anti-choice activists in the room for their role in sending them to the White House. He boasts of creating “an administration that’s filled top to bottom with people who stand without apology for life” and reminds the activists of Trump’s reinstating the Mexico City Policy, signing the Planned Parenthood bill and nominating Gorsuch. “My friends,” he said, “President Trump has been keeping his promises to all of you and the American people.”

May 4: Trump, surrounded by faith leaders and Religious Right supporters including Paula White and Alveda King, signs an executive order on “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” in a Rose Garden ceremony. The Religious Right is divided over whether the order actually means anything. In attendance is self-proclaimed prophet Cindy Jacobs:

May 13: Trump delivers the commencement address at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell and currently run by Trump fanboy Jerry Falwell Jr. “In America, we don’t worship government,” he says. “We worship God.”

May 15: Trump greatly expands the scope of the Mexico City Policy to affect $8.8 billion in foreign aid programs.

May 23: Trump releases a budget proposal that aims to slash spending on public education while pouring $1.4 billion into charter schools, private & religious school vouchers and other “school choice” programs.

May 25: Former anti-choice congresswoman Renee Ellmers takes over HHS’ Atlanta regional office. Politico reports that former Colorado lieutenant governor and Planned Parenthood opponent Jane Norton will be heading up the agency’s office of intergovernmental and external affairs while former Family Research Council chief of staff Shannon Royce will head the center for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships.

June 6: The Hill reports that abstinence-only sex-ed activist Valerie Huber has been appointed to a high-ranking position at HHS.

June 8: As Americans are glued to the television watching coverage of fired FBI director James Comey’s testimony before a Senate Committee, Trump basks in the adulation of the Religious Right at the Road to Majority, the annual conference held by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition. In his speech to the event, Trump thanks conservative evangelicals for their support in the election (“boy did you deliver”) and assures them,  “As long as I’m president, no one is going to stop you from practicing your faith or preaching what is in your heart.”

June 10: Pence closes out Road to Majority with another keynote speech.

June 10: CNN reports that Jay Sekulow, founder of the American Center for Law and Justice, has joined Trump’s defense team as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates Russian meddling in the election. Sekulow becomes a regular presence on TV defending Trump.

June 23: Pence speaks at Focus on the Family’s anniversary event, telling the Religious Right group that it has “an unwavering ally in President Trump”:

July 5: Pence invites anti-choice leaders, including Nance and Dannenfelser, to a White House meeting to reaffirm the administration’s “commitment to the sanctity of life” in the effort to repeal Obamacare:

July 10: Conservative evangelical leaders, attending a day-long “listening session” at the White House, are invited to the Oval Office to meet with and pray over Trump. Some of the regulars are there—White, Jeffress, Reed, Bachmann, Harry Jackson, Gary Bauer, Garlow, Jack Graham, Land—and they’re also joined by Florida pastor and bizarre conspiracy theorist Rodney Howard-Browne. At the meeting, Tony Perkins reportedly broaches “the topic of banning transgender people from the military.”

July 11: Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers a closed-door speech to the anti-LGBTQ legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom. After an outcry, the DOJ releases a transcript of the speech to the conservative website The Federalist; in it, he reveals that his department is finalizing guidance on “how to apply federal religious liberty protections.”

July 12: Trump sits down for an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson.

July 14: The Center for Investigative Reporting reports that HHS “has quietly axed $213.6 million in teen pregnancy prevention programs and research at more than 80 institutions around the country.”

July 26: Trump announces on Twitter that the military will cease to allow “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” FRC’s Perkins later says he had been “working with the White House” on the rollback, as well as on upcoming Justice Department “religious liberty” guidance.

July 26: The Justice Department goes “out of its way to file a friend-of-the court brief in a case to argue that federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment does not prohibit bias based on sexual orientation.”

July 26: Trump nominates Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a favorite among the Religious Right, to head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

July 31: The Christian Post reports that the White House has held three more “listening sessions” for dozens of evangelical leaders who had not yet been involved in meetings with the administration. One reported participant is Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz. End Times prepper pastor Jim Bakker later says that he was there too:

August 22: In a lengthy profile of Carson, New York magazine’s Alec MacGillis reports on HUD leaders’ “strong hang-up about all matters transgender-related,” including pulling back various efforts on LGBT homelessness and housing discrimination.

August 22: Franklin Graham and Alveda King lead opening prayers at a rally in Phoenix where Trump goes on to give a speech “railing against the media, lying about his response to deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, complaining about activists removing Confederate monuments who want to ‘take away our culture,’ and defending birther sheriff Joe Arpaio.”

September 1: Trump signs a proclamation making September 3 a day of prayer after Hurricane Harvey rips through Texas. Religious Right leaders including White, Jeffress, Jackson and Reed surround him. Jeffress later says that he took the opportunity to speak with Trump about judicial nominees.

September 7: Trump nominates Matthew Kacsmaryk, an attorney at the Religious Right legal group First Liberty Institute, and his former First Liberty colleague Jeff Mateer to federal judgeships in Texas. The White House is later forced to withdraw Mateer’s nomination after video surfaces of various controversial remarks, including calling transgender kids part of “Satan’s plan.”

September 7: The Justice Department files a brief in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, on the side of Alliance Defending Freedom and Religious Right groups that argue that certain private businesses should be allowed to refuse service to LGBTQ people.

September 12: Ohio anti-choice activist Janet Porter and former House Majority Leader Tom Delayare spotted at the White House, where Porter presents her extreme anti-choice “heartbeat bill” to Pence. Pence, Porter later says, tells her that he “loves” the bill.

September 25: Trump holds a dinner (pictured at the top of this post) with “grassroots leaders,” including Nance, Reed, Dannenfelser, the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Feulner, the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, Focus on the Family’s Tim Goeglin. Nance says a few days later that her access to the White House under Trump is “unprecedented.”

September 28: Trump nominates Kyle Duncan, a former attorney for the Religious Right legal group Becket Fund and attorney for Hobby Lobby to a federal appeals court judgeship.

October 5: Sessions reverses “a federal government policy that said transgender workers were protected from discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law.”

October 6: In twin actions, HHS rolls back the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate, saying that expanded insurance coverage for contraception could lead to “risky sexual behavior,” and the Department of Justice issues the “religious liberty” guidelines that Sessions had teased to Alliance Defending Freedom. The New York Times reported in July that Matthew Bowman, a former ADF attorney, was a key “architect” of the new birth control policy. Representatives of First Liberty Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Southern Baptist Conventions’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have all met with administration officials to lobby them to change the contraception rule. Religious Right groups, including ADF and FRC, say that they talked to the administration about the Justice Department guidance, which civil rights groups warn will make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

October 13: Trump speaks at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, where he assures his audience that his administration is “stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values” and that under his leadership the country is “saying Merry Christmas again.”

October 20: Trump uses his Twitter account to promote Jeffress’ new book.

October 25: Jane Doe, an undocumented immigrant in Texas, has an abortion after ideologically driven appointees in the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement spend weeks attempting to deny her access.

November 30: Trump lights the National Christmas Tree in a ceremony that the White House says“revives the tradition’s religious spirit.” The Family Research Council rejoices: “For the Trumps, Thursday’s event wasn’t so much about flipping the switch on a giant evergreen, but about turning the page on eight years of sanitized celebrating.”

December 7: The Justice Department reportedly moves to investigate Planned Parenthood based on allegations made by the anti-choice activists at Center for Medical Progress.

December 7: Trump announces that he will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a move long advocated by the Religious Right.

December 11: Religious Right leaders gather at the White House to present Trump with an award in response to his Jerusalem decision. The group includes Perkins, Reed, Jackson, Jeffress, Garlow, Dobson and, of course, Paula White.


Originally published by Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, a program of Open Society Foundations, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.

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