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Leftists try, and fail, to smear Speaker Johnson as ‘Christian Nationalist’

Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks after his election at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25, 2023.
Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks after his election at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25, 2023. | Tom Brenner/AFP via Getty Images

Democrats are trying to make Halloween extra spooky this year by exhuming the boogieman of Christian nationalism. The news hook is the election of a conservative Christian as speaker of the House. Rep. Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, won the election last week.

In the left-wing media’s lexicon, Christian nationalism doesn’t refer to the handful of people who would like to repeal the First Amendment. It refers to people — usually evangelical Christians like Johnson — who think bad secularist court decisions have drastically curtailed the Framers’ vision of the free exercise of religion over the last several decades.

But you wouldn’t know that from the hysterical leftist headlines.

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Media fearmongering 

“Mike Johnson’s Ties to Christian Nationalism Revealed,” reads a breathless headline in Newsweek. Reporter Ewan Palmer writes that Johnson’s previous comments seem to “echo those of a supporter of Christian nationalism.” That supposed “Christian nationalist supporter” is Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who said back in 2022 that Christian nationalism is a “good thing.”

“He is incredibly standard in terms of being a right-wing, white evangelical Christian nationalist,” historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez told Politico. While admitting Johnson doesn’t describe himself as a Christian nationalist, Du Mez has no problem applying the term to him.

“It’s simply descriptive,” she explained. “As he understands it, this country was founded as a Christian nation.”

For instance, in his Wednesday speech, Johnson said that America’s creed is “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” For Du Mez, that’s supposed to be shocking — as though those words are from the New Testament, rather than the Declaration of Independence.

Huffington Post reporter Jennifer Bendery was quick to use the trope as well. “Before coming to Congress,” Bendery tweeted on Thursday, “he spent 8 years as the senior attorney and national spokesperson for a Christian nationalist group dedicated to dismantling LGBTQ+ rights and outlawing abortion. This is Mike Johnson, the new House speaker.”

Before coming to Congress, he spent 8 years as the senior attorney and national spokesperson for a Christian nationalist group dedicated to dismantling LGBTQ+ rights and outlawing abortion.

This is Mike Johnson, the new House speaker.

— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) October 26, 2023

Bendery is referring to Alliance Defending Freedom — a Christian public interest law firm committed to religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and parental rights. Johnson previously worked with ADF as an attorney and spokesman before joining Congress in 2016. MSNBC columnist Sarah Posner, noting Johnson’s work at ADF, asserted that Johnson is the “most unabashedly Christian nationalist Speaker” in history. According to Posner, ADF wants to “eviscerate the separation of church and state.”

In truth, ADF supports religious freedom for all Americans, not just for Christians. But you wouldn’t know that if you just read the critics, who hope to consign Johnson’s mainstream conservative views to the fringe.

What’s more, according to Bendery, this isn’t old news. Johnson’s “Christian nationalist” ideology, she insists, hasn’t abated since he entered Congress. This past April, he gave a speech “decrying the ‘so-called separation of church and state,’ insisting there was nothing in the Constitution barring the government from supporting religious beliefs,” writes Bendery.

As we celebrate the 2nd annual observance of “Faith Month,” this is a great time to explain the true meaning of the so-called “separation of church and state.”

— Speaker Mike Johnson (@SpeakerJohnson) April 18, 2023

Left-wing ‘Christian Nationalism’ Boogieman mostly an attack on Christians in politics

The same day the House elected Johnson speaker, Democrat Rep. Maxwell Frost and Joint Baptist Committee Executive Amanda Tyler testified on the threat of Christian nationalism.

Tyler warned House members that Christian nationalism is “the single greatest threat to religious liberty in the United States today.” She claimed this threat is a “political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to fuse American and Christian identities.”

Rep. Frost emphasized that “Christian nationalism is a form of religious extremism making its way into our policies and undermining our democracy.” 

Look past the heated rhetoric, however, and it becomes clear that this denunciation from the Left (“Christian” or otherwise) is really an effort to keep conservative Christians from applying their faith to their politics.

Hence, the panic when Johnson gathered in prayer just after the House elected him speaker. “I believe that Scripture, the Bible, is very clear,” he said, “that God is the one who raises up those in authority,” adding: “He raised up each of you. All of us.”

I testified before Congress today about global religious freedom. I argued that our advocacy must start at home by rejecting #ChristianNationalism.

“It's deeply alarming that a member of the U.S. House of Representatives openly identifies as a Christian nationalist," I said.

— Amanda Tyler (@AmandaTylerBJC) October 25, 2023

Johnson channeling the American founders

Whatever the (tiny) threat to the First Amendment from a few folks on the Right, it’s not coming from the new House speaker. He simply opposes the secular leftist spin on the First Amendment. He’s also right to do so. First, contrary to secular claims, the First Amendment was grounded in a theological premise famously articulated by George Mason — that discharging the duty we owe to our Creator requires a context of freedom.

Second, the Framers weren’t “neutral” on the value of religion for society. In his April speech, Johnson argued that “a free society and a healthy republic depend upon religious and moral virtue.” This isn’t a sectarian belief, but a view the Framers widely agreed upon.

Johnson pointed to George Washington and John Adams. George Washington said in his Farewell Address, “religion and morality are indispensable supports” of political prosperity. Adams similarly said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”

The Framers, Johnson noted, “believed in liberty that is legitimately constrained by common sense and morality and a healthy fear of the Creator who granted all men our rights.”

Only someone ignorant of, or hostile to, the American Founding could think these arguments are a threat to rather than a defense of the constitutional order. The Left evidently doesn’t like Johnson. But rather than challenging his views directly, they’re trying to smear him. Conservatives should not fall for this trick. Instead, we should receive it as the treat it is: Left-wing pundits are panicked about the new, constitutionally grounded speaker of the House. That’s much better than Circus Peanuts and Candy Corn.

Originally published at The Daily Signal. 

Gillian Richards is a research associate for the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

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