Just days after Attorney General William Barr set off a firestorm among progressive elites for his remarkable comments on the importance of morality to the preservation of freedom, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared in a speech that his own leadership is drawn from his Christian faith. Now some are calling for what every American ought to instinctively know is an unnecessary investigation by the inspector general of the United States.
Secretary Pompeo’s speech, delivered to the annual meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors, made a clear distinction. The fourth in line to the presidency admitted to learning a great deal about leadership while at West Point, in his service in the Army and Congress, and as director of the CIA. Yet Pompeo tailored his comments to focus on how his faith has also informed his leadership style.
He cited the wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs: “With the humble is wisdom.” Great leaders are humble, he noted, observing how critical such humility is to his work as America’s top diplomat. Looking to the New Testament Book of James, Secretary Pompeo made the point that how one speaks and deals with others says a lot about who one is as a leader. And he acknowledged our responsibility to be wise stewards “of whatever it is that we have been privileged to hold onto,” including the decisions we make in our areas of leadership.
Secretary Pompeo’s leadership — in disposition, dialogue, and decision-making — is informed by the Christian principles of humility, forgiveness, being slow to speak, and stewardship.
For this, Americans United for Separation of Church and State now demands that the United States government officially investigate Secretary Pompeo and the department he leads. To them, Secretary Pompeo gave “a proselytizing religious speech,” thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. When the U.S. Department of State then promoted the speech online, Americans United for Separation of Church and State contends, it too broke the law.
Secretary Pompeo anticipated the pushback. As an anticipatory defense, he invoked President Abraham Lincoln’s famous admission: “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” Had Americans United been established during his presidency, no doubt Lincoln would have received a similar complaint.
It may come as a surprise to some that presidents (and secretaries of state) often look to moral principles — their personal faith — in making leadership decisions. When those leadership decisions align with calls for social justice and progressive calls for economic equality, the Left celebrates.
Yet, admit that a secretary of state relies upon his faith to be humbler, listen better, and make wiser decisions, and suddenly it crosses the line into a constitutionally dubious attempt to establish an official church of the United States.
The error in thinking by Secretary Pompeo’s critics is that anyone serving in government must relinquish or renounce his/her faith upon entering civil service. Americans United for Separation of Church and State believes that Secretary Pompeo must be converted from religion to secularism in order to be neutral in his office. The group erroneously equates neutrality with government-enforced secularism.
The missionary-like zeal with which these secularists act is damaging to freedom itself. What would they ask the inspector general to do in response to the secretary of state admitting in public that his leadership is informed by his Christian faith? Must he be removed from office? Should the United States fine him for referencing his faith in this speech? Must Secretary Pompeo spend a night and a day in the stocks under a sign declaring, “Thus always to religious civil servants?”
Civil servants are citizens, too. They are, and must be, free to rely upon their religious faith in their efforts and unafraid to admit that they do so. Such honesty contributes to the great diversity of our nation — including religious diversity.
The human right to religious freedom — a freedom, as Secretary Pompeo noted in his speech, denied to 80% of the world’s population — means more than the freedom to worship on Sunday and hum hymns in the recesses of one’s home. Rather, Americans of every walk of life — elected or not — are free to be known by their faith in both public and private life. More than that, they are free to rely upon that faith in their disposition, dialogue, and decisions.
Whether one’s leadership is informed by Jack Welch, Jim Collins, or Jesus Christ should be of little surprise to anyone — let alone cause for an official inquiry by the inspector general.
Jeremy Dys (@JeremyDys) is Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications for First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom for all Americans. Read more at FirstLiberty.org.