Pro-Trump Pastor Rails Against Church Being Kept Out of Government

Pastor Mark Burns, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump and a Republican congressional candidate in South Carolina, said that the separation of church and state should come to an end in the U.S.

He made the remarks as he spoke at the Trump-headlined American Freedom Tour at the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday. The right-wing evangelical Christian televangelist spoke in the morning, along with a number of other pro-Trump conservatives, before the former president took the stage in the afternoon.

"Trump won!" Burns yelled, leading the crowd to chant the slogan, according to a video shared to social media. This was an apparent reference to false claims that President Joe Biden only defeated Trump in the 2020 election due to widespread voter fraud.

"We need to replace God at the center of American politics. The separation between church and state was not designed to keep the church out of the government, it was designed to keep the government out of the church," Burns said, continuing his remarks, the Miami Herald first reported.

Pastor Mark Burns
Televangelist Pastor Mark Burns chanted "Trump won" at a large rally headlined by former President Donald Trump on Saturday in Florida. Above, Burns speaks at a pro-Trump rally at Freedom Plaza on January 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Burns was referring to the First Amendment, which establishes a separation between religion and the government. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," the amendment to the Constitution says.

While the First Amendment is generally interpreted to mean that Americans—lawmakers, un-elected government officials and ordinary citizens alike—are entitled to hold any religious belief they choose, it also guarantees that one particular religion is not favored by the government over another.

"The church should not rule over the state, and the state cannot rule over the church. Religion is too important to be a government program or a political pageant," Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, and theologian Russell Moore wrote in a January 2018 article for Time, explaining the constitutional concept. America's third president, Thomas Jefferson, is often cited by legal scholars and in court cases for coining the phrase "wall of separation," referring to the barrier between religion and the government.

Similarly, the Freedom Forum Institute, a First Amendment advocacy organization, explains: "Individual citizens are free to bring their religious convictions into the public arena. But the government is prohibited from favoring one religious view over another or even favoring religion over non-religion."

Burns' Saturday remarks appeared to suggest that he believes the church, or Christianity, should be favored by the government and have influence over it. That assessment would go against the generally accepted view of the First Amendment, which establishes a separation between both—while protecting the rights of citizens to hold any religious views they choose.

Last month, he spoke at a right-wing ReAwaken America event in Canton, Ohio, where he said God was "raising up armies" to help conservatives "shut down" Democratic-led America.

"God is raising up armies that we are going to start having civil disobedience in America," Burns told the crowd gathered at the Trinity Gospel Temple church, where that event took place. The pastor compared Trump's right-wing movement to the actions of Civil Rights activists as they protested against segregation in the South.

"We are going to shut down this America led by racist, liberal, race-baiting Democrats," Burns said. He then dropped the mic and paced on stage, fist raised, as the crowd cheered. "Are you ready to fight with me? Shout yeah!"

While Trump has not formally endorsed Burns in his GOP congressional bid, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn has thrown his weight behind the pastor. Flynn served briefly as Trump's national security adviser and has become a key promoter of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.