Monday was the Presidents Day holiday when we observe the birthday of George Washington next Thursday and of Abraham Lincoln last Monday. Like many of the Founders, Washington’s real views on religion are difficult to determine because he wrote very little about them. He encouraged people to go to church but sometimes failed to do so himself for weeks. He was a church official but often left before communion. Jefferson wrote that “…it was observed that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion.” 

Washington did write about choosing workmen for Mount Vernon in 1784, suggesting they could be “Mahometans, Jews, or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists”—as long as they were good workers. And he clearly opposed the idea of a state religion which he grew up under as a Virginia resident under British rule.

Lincoln really sounded like an atheist early in life but later, through political expediency or because of a real conversion, sounded a lot like a Christian. More than one person who knew him in his twenties said that Lincoln could shock people by saying that the Bible was just an ordinary book, or that Jesus was an illegitimate child. There is a story that he wrote an essay about his true beliefs but a friend burned it out of concern for his budding political career.  In 1843 Lincoln wrote, “It was everywhere contended that no Christian ought to vote for me because I belonged to no Church, and was suspected of being a Deist.” So happy birthday to George and Abe, whatever you did or didn’t believe in.

A little more history, although this time I’m going somewhere with it: There has been a House and Senate Chaplain since 1789 and they open each day with a prayer. Which seems odd for a government founded on separation of church and state. Shocker; the chaplains have always been Christian, although there have been many guest chaplains of different religions. James Madison opposed the idea because it violated the First Amendment and because the practice discriminated against religions such as the Quakers and Catholics whom he said “could scarcely be elected to the office.”

The guest chaplain on January 30 was Pastor Jack Hibbs, who has been described as a Christian Nationalist involved in the January 6th insurrection, with a long history of hatred toward Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ+ individuals, and anyone inconsistent with his “biblical worldview.” He was described that way in a letter from 26 House members to Speaker Mike Johnson and the House Chaplain who both made Hibbs’ appearance possible. Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) took the lead on the letter. We made a few suggestions at his request.

Here’s one good paragraph: “These facts suggest a breathtaking lack of consideration for the religious diversity of our Congress and pluralistic nation. It appears that Speaker Johnson – with the tacit approval of the House Chaplain – decided to flout the Chaplaincy guidelines and use the platform of the Guest Chaplain to lend the imprimatur of Congress to an ill-qualified hate preacher who shares the Speaker’s Christian Nationalist agenda and his antipathy toward church-state separation.” You can read the letter here.

I doubt there will be a reply from Johnson but if there is I’ll let you know here.  We will keep after Johnson’s support for church services in the Capitol, Christian nationalist chaplains, and the completely unnecessary and inappropriate tradition of Congressional chaplains. Traditions die hard but it can happen. The Congressional Prayer Breakfast is a shell of what it once was.

It’s almost too late to register for our Lobby Day on March 5, but not quite. We need a week to get your meetings scheduled so the deadline is Monday, February 26. We will be lobbying for a bill that cracks down on militias because Christian nationalists in militias is a growing problem. They definitely want less separation between church and state, but they only mean their church. You can learn more and register here.  The next Heretic on the Hill will include an Action Alert on this bill so we can maximize the support for it right before Lobby Day.


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