In his address to the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning, President Trump steered clear of policy and stuck instead to a spiritual theme: “America is a nation of believers,” he said.

At his first address to the breakfast last year, Trump made a policy promise — he said he would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment that bans churches from endorsing political candidates, a promise he has partially fulfilled by executive order but Congress failed to carry out through legislation. He joked, too, about praying for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s TV ratings.

This year, Trump struck a different tone. His theme was the heroism of everyday Americans, including military and police, teachers, even a 9-year-old with a serious illness. Trump repeatedly emphasized evidence that that American spirit is based in religion.

The examples he gave from American history tell a more complex story — the centuries-long tale of how faith has intertwined with American institutions and how it has been kept apart.

“Each year this event reminds us that faith is central to American life,” Trump said. “Our founders invoked our creator four times in the Declaration of Independence.”

Indeed, the Declaration’s most famous sentence says men’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are “endowed by their Creator.” That is the only mention of a creator in the document; it also mentions once “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

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