Rep. Chris Smith: Blurring Church & State

A blue state legislator who puts his Bible before the Constitution

New Jersey’s District 4 Representative Chris Smith is widely thought of as a moderate. He often steps across the aisle and votes against his party. He spearheads legislation against child abduction and sex trafficking, supports research and awareness for various diseases, and misses no opportunity to support the troops.

But make no mistake, he’s no moderate. Chris Smith has spent the vast majority of his career in the House of Representatives imposing his deeply unpopular, ultra-conservative religious beliefs on the nation and the world. Though the First Amendment of our Constitution clearly establishes a separation of church and state, Smith apparently has not read it.

Religious Motivation

The story of Chris Smith’s blending of his ultra-conservative religious beliefs into politics starts in his college days. Back in 1973, Smith wrote article for The Signal, the college newspaper of Trenton State College (now known as The College of New Jersey).

In the article, Smith addressed the “current upsurge in identity reversal, sexual perversion, and permissiveness” spreading through the country in the form of homosexuality, which he believed represented “the falling away from God and His law.” Smith went on to declare that “Manhood is heterosexuality; so is womanhood.” He concluded by asserting that “[God] wants good things for all of us and the most basic starting point is the awareness of our sex.”

In 1976, just one year after graduating college, Smith became executive director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee. At this time, the religiously-motivated political action committee had just recently formed to fight the women’s and gay rights movements and to preserve racially segregated Christian schools.

Soon after, in 1978, Chris Smith ran for Congress and lost. A year later, Chris Smith joined the advisory board of Christian Voice. The group was committed to three issues: extreme criticism of the women and gay rights movements, unwavering opposition to abortion, and fierce anti-communism.

By the 1980 election, Smith had established a firm alignment with the ultra-conservative religious right. The vehemently anti-LGBT National Christian Action Coalition (originally called Christian School Action) gave considerable donations to Smith’s winning election campaign. The group was founded to oppose IRS regulations that would force the desegregation of Christian schools.

Over the years, he’s received contributions from many groups which seek to inject religion into government; such as the Christian Voice Moral Government Fund, Right to Life, Family Research Council (which is so extreme in it’s views and methods that it’s been designated as a “hate group”), and many more.

Perhaps most concerning is Chris Smith’s direct connection and involvement with the 7 Mountains dominionist group who believe Christians are destined to take over all aspects of American life.

The Seven Mountains

The theology of the Seven Mountains dominionist theology is based on the idea that Christians are to take dominion over seven specific facets of modern life in order to wrest control away from Satan and his demonic spirits so that Christians can put them to use in bringing about God’s kingdom on Earth: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts and Entertainment, and Business.

A quick primer on the 7 Mountains Dominionist theology.

In 2010, Smith sat on the National Day of Prayer Task Force board alongside many of the most extreme members of the Religious Right, including Michele Bachmann and now-Vice President Mike Pence. The board includes the Seven Mountains co-founder Bill Bright’s wife Vonette on its leadership committee, and Christian Dominionist Peter Wagner.

The connection from the National Day of Prayer Task Force to the Seven Mountains theology is not subtle. Here was their mission statement:

The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s mission is to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power.

Through this lens, it’s a worrisome fact that Chris Smith’s legislative career has served to support the Seven Mountains dominionist theology. The bulk of Smith’s record matches up directly with the literal “seven mountains.”

The Family Mountain

Chris Smith has spent a large portion of his 36+ years in Congress enforcing his conservative ideal of the nuclear family. This manifests itself in many ways, but the most destructive aspect of this is his rampant and obsessive homophobic agenda.

  • In 1995, Smith co-sponsored a bill, the entire text of which was the following sentence: “No Federal funds may be used directly or indirectly to promote, condone, accept, or celebrate homosexuality, lesbianism, or bisexuality.”
  • In 2004 and 2006, he co-sponsored Constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, asserting that “in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.” This would effectively alter the Constitution to better fit Smith’s personal views.
  • In 2013, he voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act to extend protections to lesbians, gays, immigrants and Native Americans; claiming it represents a “feminist attack on family values.”
  • In 2015, Smith said he does “not construe homosexual rights as human rights.” He continued to question whether the country’s opposition to anti-LGBT legislation had negatively impacted the United States’ international relations.

Due to his archaic views and bigoted statements and legislation, Smith has earned a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He been condemned for his strongly homophobic statements, and has aligned himself with oppressive Sharia law and Communist regimes to defend his stance.

He is also the most outspoken anti-choice voice in the House of Representatives. His religiously-motivated actions have had the collateral effect of denying women healthcare and limit the rights of rape victims. You can read more on his below:

The Education Mountain

As mentioned before, Smith lost in his first election for Congress. When he tried a second time in 1980, the National Christian Action Coalition gave considerable donations to Smith’s campaign. Smith won that election.

The National Christian Action Coalition was one of the formative religious right institutions. The group was created to oppose 1978 IRS regulations that would repeal private schools’ tax-exempt status if they were violating civil rights standards, forcing many religious schools to comply with Brown vs. Board of Education. They wanted to keep religious Christian schools segregated.

Chris Smith believes students must find “the God of the Bible and Biblical values in the classroom.”

From there, Smith has steadfastly worked to impose conservative Christian beliefs in public schools and pave the way for religion to enter public classrooms.

  • In 1993, Smith amended the Goals 2000: Educate America Act to only give federal aid to public schools which allowed prayer.
  • In 1994, he formally called for the resignation of the Surgeon General for saying “Sex is a healthy part of our being, whether it is homosexual or heterosexual.” and promoting sex education. Smith claimed she had “consistently and publicly advocated practices and behaviors contrary to Federal law and the overall health and well-being of society in general.”
  • In 1997, Smith supported a constitutional amendment establishing prayer in public schools.
  • In 1999, Smith signed a resolution expressing that “prayers and invocations at public school sporting events contribute to the moral foundation of our Nation and urging the Supreme Court to uphold their constitutionality.”
  • In 2015, he sponsored legislation to prohibit certain types of sex education in public schools.

It’s clear that Smith has used federal influence on education policy to inject his religious views into the public school system.

The Business Mountain

Smith’s conservative religious views even affect his views business matters and legislation. He consistently uses his vote in the house to deny women equal rights in the workplace. Also, he’s recently been directly tied to religiously-oppressive corporations in China.

  • In 2007, Smith voted against Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007, which would ensure that employers pay women equally as men. Smith and his colleagues argued that discrimination lawsuits would be frivolous and costly to the employer.
  • In 2014, Smith, as co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, strongly supported the retail chain Hobby Lobby in denying its employees certain types of health coverage, citing religious concerns. This allows employers to impose their religious beliefs onto their employees, effectively giving corporations First Amendment rights.
  • Earlier this year, Smith made a rare appearance in his home district to attend a ribbon cutting for Hobby Lobby’s new Holmdel location.
  • During his last re-election campaign, Smith received $10,000 from Jenzabar, Inc. Jenzabar is a devoutly Catholic Chinese corporation that is currently under fire for religious discrimination. An employee was fired after being told that she was insufficiently religious, and was given an ultimatum: She could seek other employment or stay and agree to “seek the will of God in her life on a daily basis through study of God’s Word and through prayer, along with regular weekly corporate worship.”
Chris Smith strongly supported employers restricting employees’ healthcare rights.

The Government Mountain

Smith uses his position as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations to act as a missionary, spreading his religious views and influence on developing nations.

  • In 2007, Smith criticized Ethiopia for the “legalization of abortion on demand.” This was hardly the case. Ethiopia had changed its criminal code to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape or incest; where the health or life of the mother was at stake.
  • In 2008, withheld proper aid to several African nations to help fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, diverting funds to abstinence and “be faithful” initiatives. Smith cited that condoms were unnecessary, and success would be achieved by getting Africans to “change their sexual behavior.”
  • In 2011, Smith took a taxpayer-funded trip to Kenya during Congressional recess. Most members of Congress use this time to meet with their constituents. Instead, Smith lectured the country for its then-new constitution which allows abortions in cases when the health of the mother is at risk.
Smith posing for a photo-op while in Africa to spread his religious views.

Based his actions, it’s clear that Smith isn’t concerned with Africans’ rights, but seeks to impose his beliefs into their government and culture.

The Religion Mountain

In the 7 Mountains theology, the religion mountain serves to protect the Church. Numerous times in Smith’s tenure, he has pushed forward legislation that serves to provide churches and houses of worship with additional governmental protection and assistance. Churches do not pay taxes.

  • In 2013, Smith released a statement that FEMA discriminates against churches and houses of worship by not providing these tax-exempt entities with federal assistance money. Smith complained that “current FEMA policy is patently unfair, unjustified and discriminatory and may even suggest hostility to religion.”
  • In both 2013 and 2017, Smith introduced the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act. As Smith himself notes, many victims are still struggling to rebuild five years after Hurricane Sandy. This bill would take money from those natural disaster victims and hand it to tax-exempt churches.

It’s worth noting that such direct funding of religious organizations is unconstitutional, conflicting with the First Amendment.

Separation of Church and State

In 1802, shortly after writing the Constitution, founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter reflecting upon the restrictions set forth in the First Amendment:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.
The separation of Church and State, in other words.

Today, Congressman Chris Smith is actively working to tear down that wall of separation. Throughout his career, Smith has consistently focused on legislating with his Bible instead of the Constitution, imposing his ultra-conservative religious beliefs on the country and across the globe, aligning himself with fringe extremist and dominionist groups. This is in direct conflict with the Constitution and the intent of the founding fathers.

Smith is one of the longest-sitting members of Congress, and seeks his 19th term next year. Despite his deeply unpopular and archaic social policy positions, his seat remains safe due to a favorable redistricting process and sleight-of-hand publicity. It’s long past time New Jersey’s 4th Congressional district had a Representative who fights for them, not for his own extremist beliefs.