White House Bi­ble study group riles athe­ists who seek re­spect

Use of tax­payer funds ques­tioned

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

Amer­ica’s athe­ists are los­ing faith — in Pres­i­dent Trump.

For months, sec­u­lar or­ga­ni­za­tions say they have un­suc­cess­fully lob­bied the pres­i­dent to make an ef­fort to reach out to Amer­ica’s non­re­li­gious com­mu­nity. Now, rev­e­la­tions of a weekly Bi­ble study group in the Trump White House, reg­u­larly at­tended by high-rank­ing Cab­i­net mem­bers, has free thinkers up in arms.

The Free­dom From Re­li­gion Foun­da­tion is calling the Bi­ble study group dis­turb­ing, scary and maybe even an il­le­gal use of tax­payer funds.

“If those of­fi­cials want pri­vacy, the so­lu­tion is pretty damn sim­ple: Study the Bi­ble in your pri­vate ca­pac­ity, not in your of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity and at your gov­ern­ment desk,” the sec­u­lar group said in a state­ment Thurs­day. “Do it on your time, not the tax­pay­ers’. In short, get off your knees and get to work.”

The Bi­ble study group was started by Ralph Drollinger, founder of Capi­tol Min­istries, which aims to spread the Gospel at the seats of power. Mr. Drollinger has es­tab­lished sim­i­lar pro­grams in the House and Se­nate, and 40 state cap­i­tals and 24 for­eign coun­tries.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos, En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry, Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due and CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo are re­port­edly among the regulars at the White House group.

Pres­i­dent Trump has not at­tended but is in­vited to ev­ery week, and Vice

Pres­i­dent Mike Pence plans to stop by as his sched­ule per­mits.

Mr. Drollinger told CBN News, which first re­ported the White House study group, that he can see the fruits of his la­bor in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s be­hav­ior.

He said Mr. Ses­sions will “go out the same day I teach him some­thing, and I’ll see him do it on cam­era, and I just think, ‘Wow, th­ese guys are faith­ful, avail­able and teach­able, and they’re at Bi­ble study ev­ery week they’re in town.’”

News of the Bi­ble study comes af­ter a coali­tion of athe­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions pe­ti­tioned the pres­i­dent to reach out to non­be­liev­ing Amer­i­cans.

In March, the four largest athe­ist ad­vo­cacy groups in the coun­try — the Amer­i­can Athe­ists, the Amer­i­can Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion, the Center for In­quiry and the Sec­u­lar Coali­tion — sent a joint let­ter to Mr. Trump im­plor­ing him to work with the non­re­li­gious com­mu­nity to “en­sure re­li­gious free­dom and in­clu­sion for all Amer­i­cans through­out your ten­ure as pres­i­dent of the United States.”

The White House has yet to re­spond to the let­ter.

Roy Speck­hardt, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion, said the pres­i­dent has an “obli­ga­tion to rep­re­sent all Amer­i­cans.”

“De­spite di­vi­sive cam­paign rhetoric, many hu­man­ists were willing to give Pres­i­dent Trump a chance to es­tab­lish an in­clu­sive ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Mr. Speck­hardt said in a July 28 state­ment, “but his re­fusal to meet with the non­the­is­tic com­mu­nity and his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s open hos­til­ity to the sep­a­ra­tion of re­li­gion and gov­ern­ment is pro­foundly dis­turb­ing.”

Ris­ing vot­ing bloc

A Pew Re­search “Re­li­gious Land­scape Sur­vey” found that athe­ists and ag­nos­tics rep­re­sent about 7 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, while an­other 15 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say they are un­af­fil­i­ated with any or­ga­nized re­li­gion. Re­li­giously un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers sided with Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton 68 per­cent to 26 per­cent in the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion.

Pres­i­dent Obama reg­u­larly reached out to the non­re­li­gious com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress. His ad­min­is­tra­tion’s nar­row in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the First Amend­ment — which led to clashes such as the ef­fort to re­quire an order of Catholic nuns to pay for their em­ploy­ees’ birth con­trol — irked evan­gel­i­cals.

Tony Perkins, pres­i­dent of the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil, said the Bi­ble study group shows that the White House is “un­der new man­age­ment.”

“Af­ter eight years of the most hos­tile at­tacks on faith in Amer­ica, the sim­ple fact that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is en­cour­ag­ing its peo­ple to live out their be­liefs is a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple of the change tak­ing root,” Mr. Perkins said in a state­ment. “And if any­one needs spir­i­tual en­cour­age­ment, it’s the men and women in the most in­flu­en­tial seats in Wash­ing­ton.”

But the Free­dom From Re­li­gious Foun­da­tion con­tends that mem­bers of Mr. Trump’s Cab­i­net al­ready have enough trou­ble keep­ing their “re­li­gion sep­a­rate from their pub­lic of­fice.”

“Each week, th­ese pi­ous politi­cians spend their time — your time, dear tax­payer — pe­rus­ing a book that con­dones child sacri­fice, slav­ery, misog­yny and the sub­ju­ga­tion of women, geno­cide and eter­nal tor­ture for those who be­lieve dif­fer­ently,” the sec­u­lar group said. “If ever there were a book that gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials ought not to follow, it’s the Bi­ble.”

The foun­da­tion also took is­sue with Mr. Drollinger’s par­tic­i­pa­tion, point­ing to com­ments he has made in the past about women and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“That Drollinger has un­fet­tered ac­cess to the high­est lev­els of our gov­ern­ment is scary and raises se­ri­ous state-church con­cerns,” the group said. “For in­stance, all th­ese mes­sages have a di­rect im­pact on pub­lic pol­icy, in­clud­ing on LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the so­cial safety net, the right to choose, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and global cli­mate change.

“This ac­cess and abil­ity to af­fect pol­icy might run afoul of lob­by­ing reg­u­la­tions, some­thing FFRF at­tor­neys are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.”

Re­li­gious prac­tice in the White House is not un­prece­dented.

The Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion held weekly Bi­ble study gath­er­ings, and Pres­i­dents Carter and Nixon set aside time for prayer and de­vo­tion, Mr. Perkins said.

Church ser­vices were reg­u­larly held in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and ex­ec­u­tive build­ings at the time of the na­tion’s found­ing.

Mr. Perkins said, “Gov­ern­ment shouldn’t fear faith, but wel­come it.”

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