2020 Election

Religious Groups Rip Rice for Pompeo Criticism

Religious freedom groups say criticism of 'overt' faith runs afoul of constitutional protections

Susan Rice / Getty Images

Religious liberty groups raised alarms that top Biden campaign surrogate Susan Rice's attack on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's "overt" faith could lead to future discrimination against believers.

Catholic and religious liberty groups criticized Rice's comments for targeting Pompeo's faith after she told MSNBC on Wednesday that "Mike Pompeo has been an overtly religious secretary of state, which in itself is problematic." Pompeo is an evangelical Christian and has been outspoken about how his faith impacts his tenure as secretary. Rice added that Pompeo is "supposed to represent all of America, all of our religions, all of our threads."

"In criticizing Secretary Pompeo for being open about his faith, Ambassador Susan Rice perpetuates the Democratic Party’s pattern of anti-religious bigotry," Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, told the Washington Free Beacon.

A spokeswoman for Rice said that the secretary of state "is supposed to represent all of America," but declined to answer further questions about Rice's claim that "overt" faith is "problematic."

Rice was widely seen as a vice-presidential contender before Biden tapped California senator Kamala Harris (D.) in August. McGuire said she was struck by the similarities between Rice's criticism of Pompeo and Harris's attack on a judicial nominee for being a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service group.

"Democrats have made it clear that they think faith has no place out in the open in America," McGuire said. "In fact it is America’s long-standing tradition of protecting the right of people of all faiths, including those who hold public office, to speak openly about their beliefs, that has made this a pluralistic country."

Mike Berry, general counsel at the religious freedom law firm First Liberty, warned against implying that being religious is problematic for holding public office. He said such an attitude could run afoul of the Constitution.

"Ambassador Rice’s comments are not only grasping at straws, but they are dangerously misleading," he said. "Article VI of the Constitution makes clear that there is no religious litmus test for federal office."

Rice spokeswoman Erin Pelton dismissed the notion that the remarks pose a threat to religious liberty.

"Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of American democracy. But as Ambassador Rice said, the Secretary of State is supposed to represent all of America," Pelton said. "Secretary Pompeo should use his office to protect religious freedom and other basic human rights for people of all beliefs, not just those with whom he is aligned."

Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, said that Rice's comments should serve as a red flag to religious voters and public servants.

"We know Democrats will be even more hostile to religious Americans should they gain the White House and Congress next year, so Rice's comments should be another giant warning sign for voters of faith," he said. "Democrats like Susan Rice can't help but show their disgust when conservative Christians dare to even mention their faith," he added.

The State Department did not respond to requests for comment.