The decade's most triggering comedy
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) called the separation of church and state a “misnomer” when CNBC co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin attempted to corner him about kneeling and praying on the floor of Congress earlier this year.
“The separation of church and state is a misnomer —people misunderstand it,” Johnson said during an interview on “Squawk Box.”
“Of course, it comes from a phrase that was in a letter that [Thomas] Jefferson wrote — it’s not in the Constitution,” he added.
Johnson referred to Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut when Jefferson served as the third President of the United States.
“What he was explaining is they did not want the government to encroach upon the church, not that they didn’t want principles of faith to have influence on our public life is exactly the opposite,” Johnson said. “It’s exactly the opposite.”
He then referenced George Washington’s Farewell Address, delivered in 1796, which stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
Johnson also mentioned John Adams’ letter to the Massachusetts Militia in 1798, which read, “Our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
“They knew that it would be important to maintain our system,” Johnson said. “And that’s why I think we need more of that — not an establishment of any national religion, but we need everybody’s vibrant expression of faith because it’s such an important part of who we are as a nation.”
Johnson received unanimous Republican support after three weeks of chaos — and three other nominees for the position — and was elected on October 25 to replace ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), becoming second in line to the presidency.
During his first speech as speaker, Johnson told every other member of Congress that he believed God had called them all to use their gifts to serve the American people.
But just before the newly minted House Speaker secured the gavel, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) posted a photo of Johnson with a small cadre of House members praying for the Speaker’s race back in January.
In the CNBC interview, Johnson pointed to the First Amendment when asked about expressing his faith on the House floor after being sworn in.
“Faith — our deep religious heritage and tradition is a big part of what it means to be an American,” Johnson said. “When the founders set the system up, they wanted a vibrant expression of faith in the public square because they believed that a general moral consensus and virtue was necessary to maintain this grand experiment and self-governance.”
“So we created a government of, by, and for the people,” he added. “We don’t have a king in charge, we don’t have a middleman — so we’ve got to keep morality amongst us so that we have accountability.”
Johnson worked as a senior lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, focusing on religious freedom issues in schools, government, and other public spaces before he entered Congress.
His faith plays a significant role in his political decision-making — so much so that The New York Times seethed over him becoming the first speaker of the House “who can be fairly described as a Christian nationalist.”
Lots of misleading headlines. Take a look at what I actually said here: pic.twitter.com/Vw3AHzoRvT
— Speaker Mike Johnson (@SpeakerJohnson) November 15, 2023
Virginia Kruta contributed to this report.