'The Bible is not a prop': Religious leaders, lawmakers outraged over Trump church visit
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers, former elected officials and religious leaders voiced outrage at President Donald Trump after police used tear gas and flash bangs against peaceful protesters outside the White House to clear the crowd for Trump to do a photo-op at St. John's church on Monday evening.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement that Trump is "ripping" the country apart when Americans are crying out for unity over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.
"Tear-gassing peaceful protesters without provocation just so that the president could pose for photos outside a church dishonors every value that faith teaches us. We call upon the president, law enforcement and all entrusted with responsibility to respect the dignity and rights of all Americans,” Pelosi and Schumer said.
The pair of Democratic leaders said the nation needs "real leadership" during this challenging time and added, "The President’s continued fanning of the flames of discord, bigotry and violence is cowardly, weak and dangerous."
Father James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest and author, said in a statement to NBC News Monday, "Using the Bible as a prop while talking about sending in the military, bragging about how your country is the greatest in the world, and publicly mocking people on a daily basis, is pretty much the opposite of all Jesus stood for."
He added, "Let me be clear. This is revolting. The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo op. Religion is not a political tool. And God is not a plaything."
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, said in a statement Monday, "Seeing President Trump stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in response to calls for racial justice — right after using military force to clear peaceful protesters out of the area - is one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen. This only underscores the president's complete lack of compassion for Black Americans and the lethal consequences of racism."
The fierce reaction came after U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops around 6:30 p.m. ET began using tear gas and flash bangs against protesters demonstrating peacefully around Lafayette Square next to the White House, sending the crowd running in all directions. Trump delivered brief remarks in the White House Rose Garden as this unfolded just steps away, and he said that he will fight to protect the rights of peaceful protesters.
After the president made his statement, it became clear that the crowd was dispersed because he and other White House officials walked over to St. John’s Church across the street in which Trump took photos outside of it, holding a Bible.
Multiple sources told NBC News that Trump's unannounced walk to the church "was his idea" because he "wanted the visual." The president was frustrated by news reports that Secret Service officers ushered him to the White House bunker during Friday night's unrest.
One source told NBC that the church visit was meant to make Trump look strong and in charge — in that it had all the elements of “pushing protesters out of his space, sending in the troops, leaving the White House, and visiting a church." Sources told NBC the White House thinks the photo-op was successful and "went great."
Asked for comment about the use of force on a peaceful demonstration, White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement: "The perimeter was expanded to help enforce the 7:00 pm curfew in the same area where rioters attempted to burn down one of our nation’s most historic churches the night before. Protesters were given three warnings by the U.S. Park Police."
Several journalists covering the protests in the park report that they did not hear any such warnings.
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser blasted Trump for what police did to demonstrators outside the White House, which occurred before the 7 p.m. ET curfew she had instituted for the city.
"I imposed a curfew at 7 pm. A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful! DC residents — Go home. Be safe," Bowser tweeted.