News Top Stories

Evangelicals’ White House meetings illegal, church-state watchdog says

Ronnie Floyd, from left, Rodney Howard-Browne, Adonica Howard-Browne, Johnnie Moore, and Paula White stand behind President Trump as he talks with evangelical leaders on July 10, 2017, in the White House. Photo courtesy of Johnnie Moore

WASHINGTON (RNS) — A church-state watchdog is demanding a halt to meetings between the Trump administration and an informal group of evangelical advisers who have proved to be among the president’s staunchest supporters.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the group is violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a 1972 law that provides transparency and procedural standards for committees created to meet with the executive branch. The watchdog called for a stop to the group’s meetings and advising “unless and until” it complies with the law.

“It is clear that the President’s Evangelical Advisory Board is doing substantive work with the Trump Administration behind closed doors — without any sunlight for the public to understand how and why decisions are being made,” wrote Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser in a Thursday (Aug. 30) letter addressed to White House counsel Don McGahn and other administration officials. It also was sent to Johnnie Moore, who has served as an unofficial spokesman for the evangelical group.

The letter comes in the same week that President Trump hosted a dinner for close to 100 evangelicals in the White House’s State Dining Room. The president welcomed them on Monday by saying “these are very special friends of mine, Evangelical pastors and leaders from all across the nation.” Ticking off the names of leaders in attendance, including Florida megachurch pastor Paula White, evangelist Franklin Graham and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Trump added: “I know you, I watch you, I see you. Yours are the words we want to hear.”

President Trump bows his head in prayer as pastor Paula White leads the room in prayer during a dinner for evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House on Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Evangelicals who have met with the Trump administration have told Religion News Service they have discussed a range of policy issues, from abortion to transgender rights to international religious freedom.

“The Administration continues to engage hundreds of faith leaders on various issues that directly impact their communities,” Hogan Gidley, deputy press secretary, told RNS. “The White House does not have an Evangelical Advisory Board; instead, the President signed an Executive Order establishing the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative that serves all faith-based communities.”


RELATED: All the president’s clergymen: A close look at Trump’s ‘unprecedented’ ties with evangelicals


Rachel Laser, president of Americans United, called for greater transparency about the advisers.

“President Trump has granted leaders of a narrow segment of one religion unprecedented influence on policy decisions that affect all of us,” said Laser. “Americans have a right to know that — and to have a government that works for everyone, not just some.”

Rachel Laser in January 2018. Photo by Rick Reinhard, courtesy Americans United

In the letter, Luchenitser said the activities of the advisory group “are well within FACA’s scope.”

Moore, responding to a request from RNS for comment, denied the group has any official capacity.

“There has never been — and I know of no plans for there to be — a White House Faith or Evangelical Council,” he said. “It is hard to shut something down that doesn’t legally exist!”

He said there has been “confusion” about the group because members of the media “innocently chose to carry over language used in the campaign into coverage of the administration, but that campaign council was officially disbanded after the campaign.” Moore also said Americans United’s complaint seems to primarily be a “fundraising ploy” by the watchdog.

Others have previously shunned the name “faith council” as an appropriate description. Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress has told RNS that would come with “certain legal ramifications.”

When press secretary Sarah Sanders responded to a question about a July 2017 meeting, at which photos appeared on social media of evangelical leaders praying for Trump, she defended the prayer and added: “It’s his Faith Advisory Board, and they meet from time to time to speak about issues that are important to that community.”


RELATED: White House honors evangelicals ‘for all the good work they do’


Melissa Rogers, the former director of President Obama’s White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has told RNS the Obama administration’s faith-based councils produced public reports, held public meetings and were subject to the 1972 law. She tweeted on Tuesday after reports of this week’s dinner: “Once again, the Trump WH appears to favor evangelicals (more specifically, a partic kind of evangelical) over others, while claiming to promote religious freedom.”

Americans United also has sent Freedom of Information Act requests to 10 federal agencies seeking information about administration meetings and communications with the evangelical advisers. It also seeks to determine the sources of funding for the dinner.

Rob Boston, Americans United’s spokesman, said his advocacy group hopes for a response to its letter from the White House, though one is not required.

“The federal government does have to respond to our FOIA requests,” he said.

(RNS National Reporter Jack Jenkins contributed to this report.)

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

93 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Backroom meetings and bribery were how Trump always did business. The man does not understand accountability, honest dealing or transparency. He is running the presidency like any shady business venture. You know the type which have typically burned those supporting him.

    At this point the only difference between evangelical leaders and Stormy Daniels is that she was more honest about whoring herself to Trump.

  • without any sunlight for the public to understand how and why decisions are being made.

    e.g. May 10th, 2017 when Trump had that secret Oval Office meeting with Russians and no American press allowed in. Had any other American president in history done such an outrageous thing impeachment proceedings would have begun instantly. Not so with Teflon Don, all thanks to his fawning masses for whom he can do no wrong. Traitors all.

  • As to Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s “It is clear that the President’s Evangelical Advisory Board is doing substantive work with the Trump Administration”, no it is not.

    The General Services Administration administers the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

    http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-86/pdf/STATUTE-86-Pg770.pdf

    Advisory groups (see the Federal Advisory Committee Act) are not subject to the act.

    This is simply another publicity-seeking stunt by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, released to Jack Jenkins to disguise as “news”, to keep the cards, letters, and especially money coming in.

    It will file no suit.

    The Administration will pay zero attention.

    Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

  • Nonsense.

    You might wish to acquaint yourself with the act in question:

    http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-86/pdf/STATUTE-86-Pg770.pdf

    and the list of exemptions.

    In any case the consensus of legal scholars is that it is an unenforceable unconstitutional infringement upon long-recognized presidential powers which violates separation of powers by limiting the terms on which the President can acquire information from non-governmental advisors.

  • Of course it’s against the law and everyone’s understanding of the law. But sorry, you have no law enforcement——-all the way to the Supreme Court.

  • So, the leaders of “Americans United” have apparently eaten too many K-2 Marijuana brownies laced with fresh D-Con Pellets, and now their hallucinatory brains are terminally pickled.

    In an effort to prove that the AU cultists’ remaining neurons are toast (burnt toast, that is), the AU organization now seeks to blindly attack the established, sober religious leaders who are involved with Trump’s well-attended Faith and Opportunity initiative.

    Truly a most interesting religion story. Good to see RNS warning rational Americans about the Cult of AU.

  • There appears to be lapse of memory here, George W. Bush was surround by his coterie of Evangelicals.
    Who can forget the illegal invasion of Iraq undertaken by a message from God?

  • Let the Trumpvangelical grifters meet with the flimflam man. As more people see through Trump’s corruption and decidedly anti-Christian behavior, values, and policies, the Trumpvangelicals will convert into objects of well-earned mockery.

  • The entire US Congress and ALL U.S. Presidents (including Trump) whore themselves out to Israel, bowing and scraping before Israel First lobbies like AIPAC and Jewish billionaires with ties to Israel like Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban etc. This is nothing new, its been going on for decades.

    Analysis: Netanyahu May Offer Putin: Remove Iran From Syria for Lifting of U.S. Sanctions on Russia. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-netanyahu-may-offer-putin-iran-out-of-syria-u-s-lifts-sanctions-1.6265530

    Netanyahu claims he got Trump to back out of Iran nuke deal. https://nypost.com/2018/07/18/netanyahu-claims-he-got-trump-to-back-out-of-iran-nuke-deal/

    Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, in Washington, ordered Rear Adm. Lawrence Geis to bring back U.S fighter jets that were rushing to the assistance of the USS Liberty which was being attacked by Israeli jets. When Geis protested that the Liberty was under attack and needed help, McNamara allegedly retorted that “President [Lyndon] Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally over a few sailors.” http://www.chicagotribune.com/chi-liberty_tuesoct02-story.html

  • https://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/haim-saban-hillary-clinton-donor-230711
    Egyptian-born Haim Saban, a vociferous advocate for Israel and founder of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution who has been accused by conservatives of inappropriately using his perch at Univision to influence coverage — a charge he and associates vigorously deny — is hardly an uncontroversial figure, dating back long before the stretch when Clinton would fly on his plane during her years in the Senate.

    But his position near the top of Clinton’s world is unquestionable: None of his fellow top fundraisers or donors agreed to speak about him with POLITICO on the record, but they unanimously characterized the Los Angeles resident as adjacent to some of her tightest orbits of influence.

  • Trump meets with Chabad rabbis in Oval Office. https://www.timesofisrael.com/trump-meets-with-chabad-rabbis-in-oval-office/

    — Nothing but crickets on President Trump’s meeting with Chabad Rabbis by so called, Church-state “watchdog,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State. No comment whatsoever! They are scared sh*tless of Zionist power, they don’t dare to call out President Trump for kowtowing to these Jewish Supremacist Chabad rabbis.

    Chabad sometimes openly teaches that “the soul of the Jew is different than the soul of the non-Jew,” https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/148995/jewish/On-Intermarriage.htm
    What, then, is a Jew?

    After studying the matter for many years and having countless conversations with Jews of every degree of observance and belief, I think that the most convincing and coherent answer is that the distinguishing element of the Jew is the Neshamah (soul) that every Jew possesses. The soul of the Jew is different than the soul of the non-Jew. They have different characteristics, potentials and needs. Every Jew has essentially the same type of soul as any other Jew. This Jewish soul is inherited from his or her mother.

  • The president has the right to consult with anyone he wants to to form policy.
    They are not official advisors nor are they instituting policy on behalf of the administration.
    Just a bunch of atheists trying to wreck stuff because they don’t get their way.

  • The dis-honorable Nancy pelosi: you need to pass the bill before you read the bill. The Obamacare bill was a destructive bill written in the dingy, smokey, back room of congress without the minority party or public being able to review prior to the vote…

  • “Who can forget the illegal invasion of Iraq undertaken by a message from God?”

    Having lived through that period while in DC, that factoid seems to have evaded my ken.

    Citation?

  • Not only illegal, but immoral, degenerate, despicable, self-serving, anti-American. Like everything else in his fake presidency.

  • Who cares? She is not the subject here, not does that negate anything I said.

    Bullshifting like that only makes you look like scum. You approve of Trump’s shady activity because someone else allegedly (you never rely on facts or evidence) did it first.

    Trumpcare has jacked up healthcare costs and reduced the number if people covered drastically. So obviously attacking the ACA hurt the country. You can’t even rely on facts for your deflection.

    Still as I said, you are not refuting a word I said. Your post is irrelevant herbage to the discussion. Typical Trump supporters are too spineless to try to defend that garbage person on his merits.

  • Your comment was about “doing shady business”.

    That opened it up to Obamacare and Pelosi.

    This is typical of your posts: you open a sidebar, someone comments on it, and then you claim SHE or HE is changing the topic.

    Obamacare appears to be the single largest driver of the increase in healthcare costs, unless you have some math that demonstrates how you can INCREASE demand for a scarce supply, MANDATE insurance for very sick people, screw up the insurance industry, but DECREASE prices.

    Talk about Voodoo economics.

    You need to get off the AFL-CIO Socialist Party script and take a look at reality.

  • Oooh I bet they held the discussion to enact the Elders of Zion protocols!!! Watch out white genocide is coming (sarcasm, sweet sarcasm)

  • More anti-semitic nonsense. Don’t you have the American redoubt to retire to? Maybe you can meet roy hobs there, and the two of you can be persecuted together.

  • But shledon gave all of that money, and a bad dye job, to the republican party in order to elect trump. So that’s good. This causes the Nazis like yourself to have a voice and political power, so that’s good. but Sheldon is a jew so that’s bad. But this will hasten the Christian a- Porklips, so that’s good. But roy and strong will die, so that’s bad.
    The enemy of my enemy is my friend, unless he is my enemy, in which case, the friend of my enemy is my enemy or my friend.
    As st. Stupid says, “I know I know, but ya know, ya never know.”

  • First of all, complaintants should understand there is no Constitutional ‘separation between church and state.’ That, in itself, is Leftist propaganda.

    And where were these critics when Obama, on many occasions, hosted Muslim Brotherhood members in the White House?

  • To you (and others who are spiritually-lost like you) it is. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us (Christians who believe the gospel) who are being saved it is the power of God…” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

  • Why didn’t God save Jamel Myles from being bullied to death by homophobic Christian bigots like you, then?

  • The term ‘saved’ in the text refers to being spared spiritual and eternal death-both of which refer to unbelievers which I highly suspect you are and will remain unless/until you repent of your sins and turn to your only Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    And, for the record, I’m not the least intimidated by your juvenile name-calling…

  • Spuddie (what an appropriate name for the potato head) is the real Nazi. Wonder what war crimes he would be willing to commit?

  • Oh Bob, I do t ever have to read your post to know you were stupidly defending one of our resident Nazis.

  • Funny.

    But I am not the one who stands by a guy who calls white supremacists “very fine people”. Nor did I support child abduction, concentration camps and hostage taking but Bob (and probably you) did.

    Nope. You are real nazis and pathetic snowflakes.

  • If one ignored the first amendment and every good faith and honest interpretations of it. But if you are a democracy hating theocratic you would make such a patently untrue statement. Separation of church and state protects free exercise of religion. Only a theocratic who hates religious freedom makes your argument.

    So liar, when we’re those alleged meetings you referenced that were done behind closed doors. Give me a citation from an actual news source.

  • He does not have the right to endorse a given religion as part of government policy. Trump sets policy to their wishes in exchange for votes. Basic bribery. Typical for Trump even before he became your white Christian political Savior.

  • Religious freedom means folks get to practice their religion without you and Americans United mucking about in their doing so.

  • The Constitution and its amendments do not contain the phrase “separation of church and state”.

    You’ve been corrected so many times on this one can only imagine the psychic back flips it takes for you to keep posting it.

  • Actually what I did was point out there was no “child abduction”, not “concentration camps”, and no “hostage taking” but there was compliance with the laws as written.

    No court found any “child abduction”, “concentration camps”, or “hostage taking”.

    So, once again you appear to have invented something all by your lonesome sitting at your computer reading left wing propaganda handed to you by the AFL-CIO and so on.

  • Israel is a democracy? Hahaha! Hilarious! That’s what dishonest and manipulative Jewish supremacists tell the world…but everyone knows that’s pure and utter bulls*it.

    Israeli Law Declares the Country the ‘Nation-State of the Jewish People’ https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/19/world/middleeast/israel-law-jews-arabic.html
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has long demanded that the Palestinians acknowledge his country’s existence as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” On Thursday, his governing coalition stopped waiting around and pushed through a law that made it a fact. In an incendiary move hailed as historic by Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition but denounced by centrists and leftists as racist and anti-democratic, Israel’s Parliament enacted a law that enshrines the right of national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people” — not all citizens. The legislation, a “basic law” — giving it the weight of a constitutional amendment — omits any mention of democracy or the principle of equality.

  • Lies. No endorsement.
    Go pander and cry elsewhere.
    You’re ANTIFA buddies are burning down the local gas station; perhaps you should go help clean up.

  • GDP 4.2%
    15 federal judges appointed this week
    New trade deal with Mexico
    NASDAQ at all time high
    Record unemployment

    Let the back room dealing continue!!!

    MAGA!!

  • Quickest way to end the “no special treatment means no taxes” scam is simply to join the parade. It’s easy enough to leverage religion in this way, even easier than becoming a non-profit. As more and more people do this, those that don’t will suffer the consequences and become more motivated to make the change themselves. The tipping point is a lot nearer than you think. This is the natural evolution of religion anyway, everyone has their own, and it’s exceptional. Job says, so we’re good.

  • You already gave me that fictional cut and paste.

    Already showed you that Trump has not done anything to trigger economic growth. Judicial openings meant the GOP values partisan politics over their duty to the nation.

    Wages dropping faster than in a decade.

    So you admit with this rant you have nothing of value to say. Funny how you dropped the negotiations with Canada and Mexico from the last time. Trump messed those up royally.

    “Let the back room dealing continue!!!”

    Yes, I already got you are a miscreant who hates our democatic way of life, rule of law and will throw up any excuse for Trumps incompetence.

    My
    Attorney
    Got
    Arrested

  • You are full of crap. Trump was just publicly pandering for their goes in public last week at an official dinner. The presence of Mike Pence was entirely as a bribe to them. You support Trump because he has promised to disregard rule of law to support conservative Christians.

    White Supremacists bring up ANTIFA to deflect from the fact they are the most prevalent and deadliest domestic terror threat in this country. They make up much of Trumps main support.

  • It is laughable to read criticism about the nature of democracy from a nazi.

    Poor snowflake. Its not the Jews which are the reason you are unable to mate (what you call “white genocide”). It’s your personality.

  • BS. What religion is mandated by the Constitution? And if there is no freedom from religion, then get down on your knees and bow to Mecca.

  • Yes, but the Constitution is only a few pages long, so there is a lot of common judicial phrases not included.

    Jefferson’s phrase…the “Wall of Separation” for church and state quickly was derived form the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause which would have no meaning if church and state were not separated completely.

  • The courts have used “separation of church and state” analogically in dicta.

    Jefferson never rendered a court opinion, never was a judge, and was not the only person with an opinion.

    His phrase was not “derived from” the Constitution – it sprang full blown out of his head in a letter with all the binding authority of your last birthday card to your wife.

  • He wrote “there is no Constitutional ‘separation between church and state.”

    You wrote “What religion is mandated by the Constitution?”

    This illustrates the problem with using the non-canonical “separation of church and state”.

    What the First Amendment prohibits is an establishment of religion, e.g., the Church of England, the Church of Sweden.

    It does not prohibit cordial relations between religion and the government.

    It does not prohibit those with religious beliefs from being heard in the public square.

    It does not prohibit the receipt by churches and religious organizations of certain government assistance.

    It does not prohibit those with religious beliefs from receiving those funds while adhering to their religious beliefs.

    In short, the Constitution does NOT erect a wall of separation between church and state despite Jefferson’s infelicitous analogy.

  • For posting on the walls of the White House and the Capital Building:

    The Great Kibosh:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • We are still “One Nation Under God” and it still says “In God We Trust” on our currency, so enjoy your meetings, Mr. President, and let the “watchdogs” howl. TRUMP 2020!!!

  • One nation under god? Give us a break!!

    AND THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC/SATANIC CONS CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD

    Joe Smith had his Moroni and Satan/Perdition/Lucifer. (As does M. Romney)

    “Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.”

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God and of course Satan and his demons.

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tinker bell” got around) and of course the jinn.

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As do BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)(And Trump? – who knows what this nut-case is thinking other than how not to get impeached. Obviously, he lacks anything resembling Christianity)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these “pretty wingie/ugly/horn-blowing thingies” to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

  • While you’ve made it abundantly clear that you dislike Catholicism and favor “separation of church and state” extremism.

    Your point?

  • Edd believes “religious liberty” was well represented by the late Glenn L. Archer, a founder and the first Executive Director of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, now without the “Protestants and Other”, whose main focus was opposition to the Catholic Church, who dubbed the Catholic bishops in 1949 as “more dangerous and clever than communism”, petitioned the FCC to deny TV licenses to Jesuits because they were an “alien organization”, demanded that Cardinals in the Catholic Church have their citizenship revoked, and asked the House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate the intentions, scope and achievements of Vatican espionage in the United States, charging that the Catholic clergy had learned American secrets hardly anyone except the president knows.

  • I worked for Americans United years ago as editor of their journal Church & State, and I hired the first Catholic on their staff. What is worthy of scorn is Bob’s intense hatred for religious liberty.

  • Well, Bob, I’ve published a law review article on this subject in addition to a number of books. What has Bob accomplished other than hurling insults?

  • I take my stand with Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, and I get along just fine with liberal Catholics.

  • You take stand against the Constitution as written, the Supreme Court of the United States, and with former Catholics who like to pretend they haven’t left.

  • Cited numerous Supreme Court decisions in response to your posts that demonstrate you’re out of date, touch, and luck.

  • For a good look at an intense hatred for religious liberty, consider your good friend the the Glenn L. Archer, a founder and the first Executive Director of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, now without the “Protestants and Other”, whose main focus was opposition to the Catholic Church, who dubbed the Catholic bishops in 1949 as “more dangerous and clever than communism”, petitioned the FCC to deny TV licenses to Jesuits because they were an “alien organization”, demanded that Cardinals in the Catholic Church have their citizenship revoked, and asked the House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate the intentions, scope and achievements of Vatican espionage in the United States, charging that the Catholic clergy had learned American secrets hardly anyone except the president knows.

    That sort of cr-p is what you call “religious liberty”.

  • Now the evangelicals have an “infallible” leader! Such leaders foment divisions and schisms and readily implement inquisitions that aim to control any creative and critical thinking.

ADVERTISEMENTs