The number of Americans professing no religious ties is growing, but President Donald Trump re-emphasized at the recent National Prayer Breakfast that faith is key to being an American.
“Faith is central to American life and to liberty,” he said in a speech Thursday morning. “As long as we open our hearts to God’s grace, America will be free, the land of the free, the home of the brave and the light to all nations.”
The National Prayer Breakfast is a massive ecumenical gathering that draws thousands of people from around the world, The Washington Post reported, especially from the United States’ white evangelical community, which continues to give Trump high approval marks.
This year’s event included as many as 60 representatives from Russia’s religious and political communities, according to CNN, more than three times the number that attended last year’s event.
Trump attended the prayer breakfast a few weeks after allegations broke that he had an affair with an adult film actress in 2006 and paid $130,000 to keep her quiet during the 2016 campaign. Conservative evangelical leaders were criticized for their steadfast support of Trump through the scandal, despite community leaders having a history of policing Democratic politicians’ sex lives.
Trump made no policy promises at the gathering, a year after vowing to end the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the tax code that prevents churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
And while Trump rarely attends church himself, the emphasis on the role of God in his vision of America is something with which a growing number of citizens disagree.
According to the Pew Research Center: “The share of Americans who identify as atheists has roughly doubled in the past several years. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that 3.1 percent of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity, up from 1.6 percent in a similarly large survey in 2007. An additional 4 percent of Americans call themselves agnostics, up from 2.4 percent in 2007.”
While Americans identifying as agnostic or atheist remain a significant minority, concerns about the increased elevation of conservative Christianity have arisen during Trump’s presidency.
Trump’s many evangelical advisers have asserted that conservative Christians have access to the Oval Office at a level like never before. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has even gone so far as to call Trump evangelicals’ “dream president.”
But questions remain about what that means for Americans who don’t subscribe to a faith.
After hearing Trump’s speech, Nick Fish, spokesman for American Atheists, an organization that advocates for the exclusion of religion in policymaking decisions, told The Washington Post: “This is something that we’ve been confronting with this president for more than a year now. He says that the United States is a nation of believers and that we value faith in God above all else. It’s not accurate. … And it’s deeply offensive to the people like us who are not and who do not believe in God. And it excludes this huge segment of the American people.”
Despite continued assertions by the president that he wants to be a uniter, voters consider him one of the most divisive presidents in recent history. And while many of the president’s comments on faith have been polarizing, his words and actions have some concerned with how little influence Americans who don’t embrace religion have in the current White House.
“We all want a government that celebrates all Americans,” Fish said. “And the president doesn’t seem to be concerned with that on a number of areas. But beyond that, the policy implications are what really matter.”