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Bill Clinton (left) is shown leaving a church service he attended at Foundry United Methodist Church in 2000. Donald Trump (right) is shown posing in front of St. John's Church on June 1, 2020. (Source: Getty Images/USA TODAY) Bill Clinton (left) is shown leaving a church service he attended at Foundry United Methodist Church in 2000. Donald Trump (right) is shown posing in front of St. John's Church on June 1, 2020. (Source: Getty Images/USA TODAY)

Bill Clinton (left) is shown leaving a church service he attended at Foundry United Methodist Church in 2000. Donald Trump (right) is shown posing in front of St. John's Church on June 1, 2020. (Source: Getty Images/USA TODAY)

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke June 11, 2020

No, Donald Trump church photo op was not the same as Bill Clinton church photo

If Your Time is short

  • The pictures are not from the same church. Trump's was taken at St. John's Church, while Clinton was at Foundry United Methodist Church.
  • But any comparison between the two pictures is ridiculous because of the vastly different circumstances surrounding them.
  • Clinton was leaving a church service he attended.
  • Trump was manufacturing a photo op that had no other religious content and occurred without the church’s involvement, and which was preceded by police forcibly removing protesters to clear a path.

President Donald Trump drew widespread criticism after hoisting a Bible for a June 1 photo op in front of a Washington church damaged by protesters.

After a speech in which Trump raised the specter of military deployment to quell protests, police forcibly cleared demonstrators so the president could walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church.

The imagery was praised by some Trump supporters in the faith community, but many others decried it as a stunt.

One defender turned to history to make her case, saying, "It wasn't a big deal when (President) Bill Clinton held up the Bible in front of the same exact church." The Facebook post, from June 3, was shared more than 5,000 times.

The caption appeared above a photo of Clinton holding a Bible in front of a church sign, which like the one in Trump’s photo had white lettering on a black background.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook).

Did Clinton really raise a Bible in front of the same church, and is the implied similarity between the two images reasonable?

Not the same in any way

The short answer to both questions is no.

The photo of Clinton was taken July 9, 2000, by Manny Ceneta and distributed by Getty Images.

The caption says it shows Clinton waving his Bible "following a church service at Foundry United Methodist Church." Clinton worshipped there "most Sundays when he’s in town," according to a 1998 Washington Post article.

So it’s not the same church.

And the post’s underlying implication about the similarity of the two situations is just as off base.

Clinton was pictured carrying his Bible after attending a church service at his church.

Trump’s circumstances were … different.

Trump has attended the church a few times, but he’s hardly a regular. The Post reports he attended a service before his swearing-in ceremony in 2017 — following a tradition dating back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt — as well as one other time in 2017 and once in 2019.

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The church was boarded up at the time of Trump’s June 1 visit, after a fire was set in the basement amid the protests over the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. It hadn’t hosted services since mid-March due to the coronavirus restrictions.

Critics have noted the moment’s stark contrast to what preceded it.

Before going to St. John’s, Trump had delivered a Rose Garden address where he called himself an "ally of peaceful protesters" but also invoked strong military language. He condemned protest violence as "domestic terror," urged governors to deploy National Guard to "dominate the streets" and promised to deploy the military to "quickly solve the problems for them" if state and local officials didn’t take action.

Trump closed by saying, "now I’m going to pay my respects to a very, very special place."

Trump didn’t say much during the stop, where he posed alone and with a group of aides, holding a Bible handed to him by his daughter, Ivanka Trump. When a reporter asked if the Bible was his, Trump responded, "It’s a Bible." When asked more generally for his thoughts, Trump talked about America being a "great country."

And the entire photo op occurred without the permission or involvement of the church, which later condemned the visit.

Trump did not inform church leadership he was coming. No one associated with the church was present. He did not enter the building. He did not quote any Scripture. He did not pray.

Rev. Mariann Budde, who oversees the church’s denomination in Washington, D.C., said she was "outraged" to see the resulting images.

"I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing (the area) with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop," Budde told the Washington Post.

Budde is referring to what preceded the four-minute walk Trump and his entourage took to reach the church. That’s a key reason USA TODAY noted this "may become a defining event of Trump's presidency."

To clear a path to St. John’s, police had forcibly removed White House demonstrators the New York Times described as a "generally peaceful crowd."

The nature of that removal remains a topic of debate: Park Police told USA TODAY they did not use tear gas (as many media outlets reported) but did use pepper balls, a chemical irritant. The White House and Park Police said rubber bullets were not used.

Our ruling

A viral Facebook post claimed "It wasn't a big deal when Bill Clinton held up the Bible in front of the same exact church (as Donald Trump)."

The image of Clinton in the post is not from the same church. 

And attempting to draw a parallel between the two incidents is a big stretch. Clinton was holding his Bible as he left a service he attended. Trump was manufacturing a photo op that had no other religious content and occurred without the church’s involvement, which was preceded by police forcibly removing protesters to clear a path.

We rate this claim False.

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More by Eric Litke

No, Donald Trump church photo op was not the same as Bill Clinton church photo

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