WASHINGTON -- The leader of the U.S. House of Representatives will speak next week before a national gathering of elected officials and others advocating for a Christian political agenda.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., will serve as the keynote speaker at the National Association of Christian Lawmakers' annual meeting and awards gala Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C. The event will take place at the Museum of the Bible, less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol.
Johnson is entering his second month as speaker. The House Republican Conference backed Johnson in October, ending a 22-day legislative standstill after a hard-right coalition successfully led an effort to oust Kevin McCarthy of California.
The National Association of Christian Lawmakers is a Conway-based organization founded by former state Sen. Jason Rapert. On its website, the association advocates for uniting politicians at all levels of government in support of "clear Biblical principles," noting a belief that "America would be better off if more Christians would run for elected office at the local, state, and federal levels."
Neither Rapert nor Johnson's office responded to an inquiry from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette concerning the event.
"Since the NACL started in August of 2020, we have members and supporters now in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and we would love for you to come and be part of this wonderful celebration of all of the things that we have accomplished, and talk about all of the things that we intend to do," Rapert said in an Oct. 28 video concerning the upcoming event.
"The presidential election is coming up in 2024, and it is important for Christians to be united all across the United States of America."
A legislator previously unknown to much of the nation, Johnson's past has received much scrutiny since his election to the speakership. Before taking public office, he served as an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal body which has fought against abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights.
As a member of Congress, Johnson has led efforts challenging gender-affirming care for transgender children and introduced legislation blocking federal funding for events and programs deemed "sexually-oriented."
"The MAGA House majority has selected the most anti-equality Speaker in U.S. history by elevating Mike Johnson -- this is a choice that will be a stain on the record of everyone who voted for him," Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in the wake of the House electing Johnson.
"Johnson is someone who doesn't hesitate to express his disdain for the LGTBQ+ community from the rooftops and then introduces legislation that seeks to erase us from society."
All four of Arkansas' House members supported Johnson's nomination.
Rapert served in the state Senate from 2011 to 2023. He ran for lieutenant governor in the 2022 election but lost the Republican nomination to then-Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
Rapert's name has been in the news in recent days after Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders appointed him to the Arkansas State Library Board. The seven-member board acts as the policy-making body for the Arkansas State Library under Act 489 of 1979. It has a state operations appropriation of $3.7 million, a federal operations appropriation of $3.2 million and a $10 million appropriation to provide state aid to public libraries in fiscal year 2024 that started July 1.
Multiple state legislators have shared opposition to Sanders' selection of Rapert for the board. Senate Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, previously told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the State Library Board doesn't need a "polarizing figure" like Rapert.
Rapert has said he wants the library board to focus on educating children and to oppose efforts by libraries to indoctrinate children into the "woke agenda." He said he also wants to make sure the board follows Act 372 of 2023, which creates an offense for "furnishing a harmful item to a minor" and strikes a defense for librarians against criminal prosecution under state obscenity laws.
Supporters of Act 372 say it is needed to protect children from obscene material and that more transparency is needed when it comes to decisions made by libraries. Critics of the law say the act could expose librarians to criminal liability, lead to children losing access to important pieces of literature and result in libraries and local elected officials being inundated by objections to books.
In late July, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of two provisions of Act 372. One contested section of the legislation establishes the new Class A misdemeanor offense of furnishing a harmful item to a minor, incorporating definitions from existing obscenity law, and the other contested section sets a process for individuals to challenge the appropriateness of materials held in a public library's collection.