President Donald Trump began the first week post-shutdown with a seemingly odd (for Trump) and random endorsement of Bible study in public schools, an issue that’s never been a central component of his agenda.
The Monday morning tweet made some sense when Twitter users saw a segment about “Bible literacy bills” was airing on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning show.
“Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” Trump wrote. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”
Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2019
Trump’s tweet came minutes after Fox & Friends interviewed North Dakota Rep. Aaron McWilliams (R), who co-sponsored a bill to allow Bible classes in public schools in his state.
“There’s a separation of church and state, but there’s not a separation of books from education,” McWilliams said, adding that unless schools allow classes about religious texts, the state ends up “establishing a religion of secularism within our school by not having anything else.”
Rep. Aaron McWilliams argues that unless public schools allow Bible classes (or “the Quran, or any other religious text,”) we wind up “establishing a religion of secularism within our school by not having anything else.” pic.twitter.com/UlGh5ZLCKG— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) January 28, 2019
The rise of Bible literacy bills has stirred nationwide controversy. Christian legislators like McWilliams say the classes are intended to educate students about an important historical text. Civil liberties groups like the ACLU argue they encroach upon the separation of church and state.
Trump hasn’t weighed in on the issue before and he hasn’t made prayer in schools a key piece of his agenda. But his long-solid support among evangelical voters is slipping. And his relationship with Fox News has been rocky recently. Backing a cause supported by many Christians and reminding Fox he’s still a loyal viewer made for a potentially politically useful tweet.
What are Bible literacy bills?
Conservative groups have recently been coordinating in states to introduce bills that would allow classes on the Bible in public schools. As USA Today detailed in a recent piece, the legislation is the product of “an initiative called Project Blitz coordinated by conservative Christian political groups.”
In the past year, such bills have been introduced in North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia, and Florida. A bill allowing students to take elective classes about the Bible and Hebrew scriptures has already been signed into law in Kentucky.
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, told USA Today that Project Blitz has “put out a more than 100-page playbook that lays out very plainly their strategy into tiers of bills that they want to pass, and the last tier is promoting a particular religious point of view for legislation.”
USA Today provides more details about Project Blitz’s playbook:
The ACLU provided a copy of the 2018 version of the playbook, called the “Report and Analysis on Religious Freedom Measures Affecting Prayer and Faith in America.” Model legislation and talking points within it advocate for preserving the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage and enshrining conservative values in public policy. For instance, the groups say marriage and child adoption should be practiced only by heterosexual, married couples.
Lawmakers supportive of the legislation say there’s a way to offer Bible classes in public schools that comports with the Constitution. Civil liberties organizations argue that Project Blitz’s true motivation is to promote Christianity, not to offer classes as academic pursuits.
Trump’s evangelical support is slipping
NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released a poll last week that showed his support slipping among evangelicals, from an approval-disapproval split of 73-17 last year to 66-23 this year.
Trump seems at least somewhat familiar with the NPR poll. He has repeatedly touted the poll’s finding that his approval rating among Latinos is up, while ignoring that the rest of it contains almost nothing but dire news for him.
While Trump doesn’t seem to be very familiar with the Bible, rarely if ever goes to church, and hasn’t exactly lived the life of a saint, he has proven to be remarkably, resiliently popular among white evangelicals. The NPR poll is one of the first indications of that support eroding. Trump’s Monday morning tweet might’ve represented an effort to shore it up.
Trump loves himself some Fox News
Then again, Trump regularly live-tweets Fox News, and perhaps his promotion of Bible classes in public schools was just part of his regular routine. He didn’t even try to hide the fact he was live-tweeting other segments of Monday’s Fox & Friends.
“In the Media’s effort to destroy the President, they are actually destroying themselves. Given all of the tremendous headwinds this President has faced, it’s amazing he has accomplished so much.” DEROY MURDOCK @foxandfriends I agree!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2019
It’s been said before that the president can’t afford the amount of time that he dedicates to watching Fox News. This moment is even worse. The government will shut down again on February 15 unless Trump and Congress agree on a border security deal. Both sides appear to be dug in. Instead of focussing on making a deal, he’s focusing on his TV.