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GOP Rep. Steve Scalise details being shot, shares faith testimony: ‘Can’t separate church and state’

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House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) gave the keynote address at Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton Hotel, and during his speech, he addressed the shooting that nearly took his life as well as his position on faith within the government.

What's the background?

Scalise was gunned down in a June shooting during a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

At least five people were injured in the shooting. Scalise was shot in the hip and his condition was touch-and-go as he received several surgeries.

The suspect in the shooting was James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois.

Hodgkinson was injured during an exchange of gunfire with police and later died from his injuries.

What did Scalise say during the speech?

During the speech, Scalise talked about the importance of religion in his life and noted that it was to his faith he immediately turned in the moments following the June shooting.

"The first shot comes and I was looking in the direction and I saw a tractor. I thought a tractor had backfired," he explained. "And then all of a sudden the second shot comes and by the third shot I was hit and fell to the ground and my first instinct was to start crawling and try to get away. I was crawling and then eventually my arms gave out."

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in June revealed that Scalise lay injured in the outfield "for at least 10 minutes."

"Once my body just kinda went into a shutdown mode, I still could hear everything that was going on," Scalise recalled. "I couldn't see anything so the first thing I thought of was to pray. I just started praying, and I said I'm gonna put this in God's hands."

"I've always been a man of faith," Scalise added. "I don't go around talking about it a lot. I have a conversation with God every night. I talk to God and I don't just talk to him to ask him for things. I try to remember every night to thank God for the good things that happened that day so that if there is something that I want I'm not just asking him, it should be a two-way street."

Scalise also pressed his belief that it is impossible to separate church and state, and addressed his party's efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment of 1954.

The Johnson Amendment threatens religious leaders with the loss of tax-exempt status for their church or religious organization if they opt to give sermons that promote or endorse political candidates. The Johnson Amendment also disallows religious organizations or entities from raising money for political campaigns.

"This is a nation that was not founded in agnostic views," Scalise said. "This was a nation founded with a deep belief in God. Our Founding Fathers talked about it when they were preparing to draft the Constitution. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Constitution. If you go to the Jefferson Memorial right now, go read this inscription from Thomas Jefferson: 'God who gave us life, gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?' You can't separate church from state."

Scalise's comments about being unable to separate church from state were met with applause from the audience.

"I'm a Catholic, we have people of all faiths," he continued. "This idea that you can just check your faith at the door, people would say. When you're voting on issues how do you separate your faith from the way you vote? Faith is part of who you are. It's part of who I am, it's part of what establishes the values that I bring to this job and I would hope that everybody brings a set of values rooted in faith when they're making consequential decisions that don't just affect our country but affect the entire world."

Continuing his speech, Scalise reiterated his point that the U.S. was founded on the very backbone of a belief in God.

You can read more about Scalise's point of view on the Johnson Amendment here, and more about the Johnson Amendment itself here.

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