In late July 2017, President Donald Trump abruptly tweeted that under a new policy, transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.
The directive surprised a lot of people--including Pentagon officials and military advisors who were clearly taken aback. Trump had apparently not consulted with them first. So what sparked the new policy?
It turned out that just weeks before the tweet was issued, White House staffers had met with Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board, a body composed chiefly of leaders of Religious Right organizations, TV preachers and conservative pastors. The issue of the transgender ban was discussed during the meeting.
Emily McFarland Miller and Jack Jenkins, reporters with Religion News Service (RNS), wrote that the Rev. Johnnie Moore, spokesman for the board, noted that while the issue of transgender troops wasn't on the agenda of the July 10 meeting, it came up and was "briefly discussed."
Board members decided to press the issue. Days later, they followed up with a letter asking Trump to reverse a policy put into place by President Barack Obama that ended discrimination against transgender people in the military. Trump apparently decided to bypass military leaders, most of whom don't support the ban, and follow the advisory board's advice.
The incident is a telling example of the reach and power of the Evangelical Advisory Board. And it's far from the only one. It has also come to light that two board members, Moore and Paula White, helped shape a Trump executive order establishing the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
Advisory board members crow about their influence in Washington, D.C.
"There is a long list of progress we have made with this administration because we took our seat at the table," Moore told RNS. "We've provided consequential feedback on policy and personnel decisions particularly affect ing religious liberty, judges, the right to life and foreign policy. We are also actively at work on issues like criminal justice reform, and when we've disagreed, we've had every opportunity to express our point of view."
Moore has also boasted on C-SPAN that the board "pays regular visits to the White House, which can start with policy briefings from West Wing staff and agency officials and end with impromptu visits to the Oval Office." The advisory board, Moore said, has a "pretty significant" hand in "directing or affecting" administration policy.
Administration officials agree that the board plays a significant role. In July 2017, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then the White House deputy press secretary, said of the advisory board, "They meet from time to time to speak about issues that are important to that community."
All of this indicates that the president's Evangelical Advisory Board is not merely ceremonial; it has had substantial input on...