John Oliver is not the first person to blast the Trump administration for using scripture to justify its practice of separating children from parents accused of entering the United States illegally. But he may be the first to make the point using whimsical childhood rhymes.
On Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver pointed out that the Bible “is not a government document,” regardless of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s use of the holy book to defend the administration on the family-separation issue.
“From a policy perspective,” Oliver said, Sessions “might as well be citing ‘Green Eggs and Ham’: We must keep children in a box. We must keep them with a fox. Which would be a terrible policy.”
Oliver dedicated nearly five minutes of his show to explaining why the Bible passage Romans 13 can’t be used to shield the administration from the torrent of criticism about what many religious and political leaders say is a harsh and immoral crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
Sessions told law enforcement officials on Thursday: “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is a conservative Christian, echoed Sessions’s thoughts when asked about them by the White House press corps:
“I’m not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing. I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. . . . That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”
But Oliver’s criticism was about more than the nation’s chief lawyer using a religious document to justify a government action.
“Romans 13 is possibly the worst Bible passage to bring up since it was regularly invoked in Civil War times by defenders of slavery,” Oliver said. “And I know that you’re probably thinking: Wait, wait, wait, he wouldn’t align himself with slave owners, even accidentally. Not Jefferson Beauregard Sessions of Alabama. Well, I’m sorry, but he did.”
A growing chorus of faith leaders — the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham; Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner of the Religious Action Center; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — has said that the administration’s practice of separating children from their parents is immoral.
Oliver’s biggest argument was not about the separation of church and state or the historical minefield that surrounds Romans 13. It was about hypocrisy.
His finishing point was that President Trump’s administration is on shaky ground if it wants to use the Bible’s moral code as the standard for all its actions.
“Let’s remember that the Bible is not a big fan of adultery, gluttony, coveting your neighbor’s wife, pride or wrath,” Oliver said. As he spoke, the show flashed images of Trump with porn star Stormy Daniels, Trump eating a piece of meat on a stick while wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, Trump next to his daughter and son-in-law, Trump next to a poster of his board game, and Trump looking angry.
“What I’m saying,” Oliver concluded, “is you probably shouldn’t use the Bible to justify separating children from parents. But if you do, maybe make sure that you’re not breaking so many of its rules that God has to make a separate rule saying I was . . . serious.”