Pruitt in 2005: Evolution’s just a 'theory’

- Maret 02, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed evolution as an unproven theory, lamented that “minority religions” were pushing Christianity out of “the public square” and advocated amending the Constitution to ban abortion, prohibit same-sex marriage and protect the Pledge of Allegiance and the Ten Commandments, according to a newly unearthed series of Oklahoma talk radio shows from 2005.

Pruitt, who at the time was a state senator, also described the Second Amendment as divinely granted and condemned federal judges as a “judicial monarchy” that is “the most grievous threat that we have today." And he did not object when the program’s host described Islam as “not so much a religion as it is a terrorist organization in many instances.”

The six hours of civics class-style conversations on Tulsa-based KFAQ-AM were recently rediscovered by a firm researching Pruitt’s past remarks, which provided them to POLITICO on condition of anonymity so as not to identify its client. They reveal Pruitt's unfiltered views on a variety of political and social issues, more than a decade before the ambitious Oklahoman would lead President Donald Trump’s EPA.

The views he states, in discussions peppered with references to inalienable rights and the faith of the nation's founders, are in line with those of millions of other conservative, devout Christians. But they also show stances that at times are at odds with the broader American mainstream, and in some cases with accepted scientific findings — an issue that has more recently come up with his skepticism about the science behind climate change.

“There aren’t sufficient scientific facts to establish the theory of evolution, and it deals with the origins of man, which is more from a philosophical standpoint than a scientific standpoint,” he said in one part of the series, in which Pruitt and the program's hosts discussed issues related to the Constitution.

EPA would not say this week whether any of Pruitt’s positions have changed since 2005. Asked whether the administrator’s skepticism about a major foundation of modern science such as evolution could conflict with the agency's mandate to make science-based decisions, spokesman Jahan Wilcox told POLITICO that “if you're insinuating that a Christian should not serve in capacity as EPA administrator, that is offensive and a question that does not warrant any further attention."

Republicans in Congress defended Pruitt, saying his religious beliefs should factor into how he does his job.

"All of us are people of faith and obviously influenced by our faith and the role it played in our life … and continue[s] to play in our life on a daily basis," said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees EPA. "It’s a part of who we are."

Sen. Jim Inhofe, a fellow Oklahoman, said Pruitt's faith does and should play a role in his work.

“He’s a believer. He is a Jesus guy. He believes in the principles,” Inhofe said. “I think it does [have an impact], and I think it has to. Anyone who denies that that has an impact isn’t being totally honest."

Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists — a group that has criticized Pruitt’s environmental policies — said Pruitt’s religious beliefs aren’t relevant to his leadership of EPA “because the job is not to be the nation’s pastor.” But his group still worries that Pruitt has chosen to “sideline science" and “wants to make decisions on a wholly political basis.”

“If I had to say if there was a philosophy behind his decisions, it’s 'Industry is always right and we should just get out of the way,'” Rosenberg said.

Pruitt expounded his philosophy on a wide variety of topics during the radio discussions, which originally appeared under the heading “KFAQ University — Standing Up For What’s Right.” Five years after they originally aired, the programs were posted on Pruitt’s campaign website in 2010 when he ran for Oklahoma attorney general.

The discussions among Pruitt and the hosts always began with the Pledge of Allegiance and often stuck to dry reviews of the historical context of the Revolutionary War and the Constitution’s origins. But they sometimes swerved into modern-day political frustrations, often with religious overtones.

Pruitt, a former Baptist deacon who was previously a trustee of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., acknowledged that the founders of the United States did not want a church to run the government. But still, he explained at length, society should be centered on certain religious ideals or it will fall into “chaos.”

In the current political atmosphere, he said, “We're saying to a certain category of religion, 'No, you can't be a part of the public square, because you are the majority religion, historically. We're going to make sure that the minority religions are built up and encouraged, but the majority religion is going to be shifted aside.' Now that violates, again, individual liberty.”

He frequently referred to atheism and humanism, which stresses the potential for humans to be good, as religions that enjoy more rights to expression than Christianity.

“I believe that it’s time for us to say, let us be truthful and honest about who we are as a country because if we protect the principles of the First Amendment, we will respect all religions and each will be able to freely exercise what they believe in the public square,” Pruitt said.

History has proven that people will not do what's right without religious principles to guide them, Pruitt said.

“When you take out this aspect of who we are as a republic, and you try to eradicate it from who we are, it leads to what? 'Each man did what was right in his own eyes,' and you have chaos,” Pruitt said.

He added that without changes to protect constitutional rights, "it leads to anarchy, it leads to rebellion,” which he predicted could happen within the next few decades or sooner.

In one episode, a host suggested that Islam “is not so much a religion as it is a terrorist organization, in many instances.” The host, Gwen Freeman, added: “You can believe whatever you want to, but if you’re going to be hiding behind a mosque and teaching people in your mosques to harm other people, that’s where you have to draw the line.”

“Absolutely,” Pruitt responded, going on to talk about the relationship between God and believers and saying that people should be able to practice any religion unless it is manifested in violence. “Our First Amendment should preserve the right of Hindus and Muslims to practice their faith. I believe that with all my heart. But what I don’t agree with is that because of that relationship, if it is manifested in violence as Gwen is saying, that we don’t have the right to deal with that.”

Pruitt didn’t explicitly endorse or dispute her description of Islam as a terrorist organization.

Throughout the programs, Pruitt suggested that states might need to call a constitutional convention to propose amendments that would allow expression of religion in government, declare abortion illegal and bar same-sex marriage.

Pruitt acknowledged some trepidation about holding a constitutional convention, which could make wholesale changes to the nation’s founding charter.

“It scares me to a large degree to go into something like a constitutional convention, ’cause that means that we’re going to have to really be educated, and informed, and debate,” he said. “But you know what? Maybe it’s time.”

Federal courts have interpreted the Constitution to require the separation of church and state and have expanded upon that in a series of cases, including a 1947 decision prohibiting New Jersey from using public funds to bus students to Catholic schools.

Pruitt disagreed, saying: “I think the most grievous threat that we have today is this imperialistic judiciary, this judicial monarchy that has it wrong on what the First Amendment's about and has an objective to create religious sterility in the public square, which is wholly inconsistent with the Founding Fathers’ view.”

He also weighed in on a 2005 Supreme Court case that involved a display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas State Capitol. He argued that prohibiting such displays elevated atheist beliefs above Jewish and Christian ones.

Two years earlier, Pruitt had supported an unsuccessful bill that would have required textbooks in Oklahoma to carry a disclaimer that evolution is a theory. The show hosts joked that Pruitt had been compared to Adolf Hitler and the Taliban for backing the measure.

“I’m a bit better-looking than them,” Pruitt quipped. “My wife tells me so anyway.”

In the 2005 recordings, Pruitt also backed a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, saying it derives from a divine mandate and thus cannot be limited.

“If you can tell me what gun, type of gun, I can possess, then I didn’t really get that right to keep and bear arms from God,” he said. “It was not bequeathed to me, it was not unalienable, right?”

Even some issues that aren’t explicitly faith-based, such as global warming and fossil fuel production, have often split different groups of religious believers. Some polls show that less than 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe that human activity is the driving factor behind climate change.

And Pruitt has echoed that sentiment, telling CNBC last year that he did not believe carbon dioxide was a primary contributor to climate change. Last week, he told the Christian broadcaster CBN News that he supports developing the nation’s energy resources, a stance that he believes aligns with Scripture’s teachings.

"The biblical worldview with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we've been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” he said.

Pruitt isn’t the first EPA administrator to openly express his or her religious faith, of course. His immediate predecessor, Gina McCarthy, was a Roman Catholic who visited top officials at the Vatican in 2015 as church officials worked to write Pope Francis' climate change encyclical. She oversaw the creation of the major climate change and water regulations that Pruitt's EPA has started to unwind.

Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and climate scientist, said the evidence of climate change does not conflict with the teachings of the Bible — so anyone who rejects the science is making more of a cultural or political decision than a faith-based one.

"I think you probably could run Boeing if you thought gravity was optional, as long as you were willing to let people who didn't think it was optional actually do the design of the plane," Hayhoe said. "Here's the thing: If we think it is optional to agree that the planet is warming, humans are responsible and the impacts are serious ... we will be making decisions that are not based in reality."

Anthony Adragna contributed to this report.


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