Sen. Sasse: ‘Word of God’ not a prop for politics

CNA Staff, Jun 2, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) issued a strongly-worded statement on Tuesday condemning President Donald Trump’s brief appearance in front of an historic church in Washington, D.C., Monday, during which the president held up a Bible. 

Trump posed for pictures Monday evening in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, walking to the building from the White House Rose Garden after protestors were cleared from Lafayette Park.

“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others’ property, and no right to throw rocks at police,” said Sasse on Tuesday. “But there is a fundamental–a Constitutional–right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop.” 

On Monday, Trump walked from the Rose Garden to St. John’s Episcopal Church, which sustained damage in the riots. A fire broke out in the church’s basement nursery, but the flames were quickly extinguished before they could spread throughout the building. 

Every sitting U.S. president since James Madison has attended a church service at St. John’s Episcopal. 

Trump condemned the apparent arson attempt during his address to the nation on Monday evening, after which he posed in front of the church with members of his cabinet and holding a Bible. 

The path the president took to the church had been occupied with protestors, who were dispersed by police during the president’s address. It is unclear as to what prompted this dispersal. While cities across the U.S. have seen outbreaks of looting and violence, the protests in Lafayette Park, focusing on the May 25 death of George Floyd, were widely reported to be non-violent.

The Park Police denied they were ordered to clear the protestors for the photo opportunity, and instead said that they did so as the protestors were throwing water bottles at the police. The Park Police also denied an allegation they had used tear gas to clear the park, and insisted they used smoke bombs. 

However, on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr requested that the security perimeter of the area be expanded. After Barr ordered the perimeter to be expanded, the Post reported, the protestors were removed from the scene. 

In his statement Tuesday, Sasse added that it is the role of public servants to “lower the temperature” in society, and attempt to defuse tensions. 

“That means saying two basic truths over and over,” said Sasse. “1. Police injustice–like the evil murder of George Floyd–is repugnant and merits peaceful protest aimed at change,” and “2. Riots are abhorrent acts of violence that hurt the innocent.” 

These two principles must be put forward “loudly and repeatedly,” said the senator, “as Americans work to end the violence and injustice.”

Sasse is known to be a devoted promoter of the right to religious liberty, and is himself a committed Christian. Before he was elected to the Senate, Sasse was president of Midland Lutheran College in Nebraska, the state he now represents as a legislator.

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