Church-State Watchdog Says White House Meetings With Evangelicals Are Illegal

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.”

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Source: Religion News Service