After weeks of turmoil, the U.S. House of Representatives finally voted in a new speaker: a relatively unknown representative from Louisiana named Mike Johnson. Media coverage of Johnson’s ascension has alerted the public to the generically named speaker being a MAGA extremist and election denier, but alarming details about Johnson’s history as a Christian nationalist are going largely unreported.
Since becoming a member of Congress in 2017, Johnson has opposed legislation that codified protections for same sex-marriages, sponsored a federal version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and supported a nationwide abortion ban. He believes that women must be forced to give birth in order to supply “able-bodied workers” to support Social Security and Medicare.
And prior to his time in Congress, Johnson worked as a lawyer for multiple Christian nationalist extremist organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom and First Liberty Institute. He dedicated his legal career to advancing efforts to interfere with others’ rights in the name of Christianity — in his own words, he focused on “religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and biblical values, including the defense of traditional marriage, and other ideals like these.”
In practice, this meant trying to criminalize homosexuality and prohibiting same-sex couples from getting married. He also worked to make it harder for married couples to get divorced, and, of course, fought against women’s reproductive health care and to erode the wall separating church and state. The Alliance Defending Freedom is a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group, and First Liberty Institute has a similar agenda. Every time FFRF defends true religious liberty in court, one of these groups will show up to defend Christian supremacy. This has spanned many issues, from legislative prayer to religious monuments on government property, and today these groups continue feverishly working to remove basic civil rights protections.
After working with those Christian extremist organizations, Johnson decided to create one of his own. Following the trend of Orwellian names, he called it Freedom Guard. There, he represented Answers in Genesis, the fringe creationist outfit behind the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, in its attempt to avoid paying taxes in Kentucky. FFRF has helped to keep Kentucky public schools from visiting these anti-science sites, reported them to the IRS for appearing to violate the conditions of their tax-exempt status, and has even taken a walk through the Ark Encounter so that you don’t have to.
Amazingly, all of this just scratches the surface of Johnson’s Christian nationalism.
Johnson’s extremist views have not changed, but his influence has grown tremendously after his election to the House and, now, his ascension as House speaker. His fingerprints are on seemingly every organized effort to enshrine Christian privilege into American law, and to limit the rights of non-Christians. After being chosen speaker, Johnson immediately portrayed the United States as an anti-atheist country, stating from the speaker’s dais: “It was in 1962, that our national motto, ‘In God We Trust’ was adorned above this rostrum . . . as a rebuke of . . . Marxism and communism, which begins with the premise that there is no god.” He droned on with religious references and bible verses, also suggesting that the Christian god himself was responsible for Johnson’s election as speaker.
Johnson recently said that to know his stance on any issue, “go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.” Historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez comments that Johnson’s “commitment is not to democracy. He’s not committed to majority rule; he seems to be saying he’s committed to minority rule, if that’s what it takes to ensure that we stay on [a] Christian foundation.”
So, the speaker of the House is a radical Christian nationalist, committed to using his position to advance his personal religious beliefs without regard for the rights of those who disagree with him. Why is this so consequential?
First of all, Speaker Johnson is now second in line to the presidency. That alone is quite a terrifying thought.
Second, and of more immediate importance, Johnson will have total control over which bills receive a vote on the House floor. He’ll be a final gatekeeper, ensuring the death of any bills inconsistent with his ideology. This is a travesty for state/church advocates — after Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell packed the federal judiciary with religious ideologues, we could no longer count on the courts to protect this foundational American principle, and with Johnson driving the House agenda, another door slams shut.
It remains to be seen whether Johnson’s tenure will last longer than that of his predecessor. While the current House of Representatives has never been a friend to the separation of church and state, a speaker who puts Christian supremacy above the Constitution is an urgent threat to our secular democracy. FFRF will keep fighting despite these obstacles — and will continue to sound the alarm on the rapidly encroaching threat of Christian nationalism.