Trump appears to ask Melania to smile during photo op at chapel that infuriated church leaders

James Crump
Melania and Donald Trump at St Johns church on Monday: (The Recount - Twitter)

President Donald Trump appeared to tell the first lady, Melania Trump, to smile, during a visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, a day after his visit to the St John’s Episcopal Church outraged religious leaders.

In footage taken of the visit to the shrine on Tuesday, the president was filmed briefly saying something to Ms Trump, before smiling for the photographers, who were documenting their visit.

He then seemed to notice that she was not smiling, and spoke to her again before Ms Trump then forced a quick smile and walked away with her husband.

Trump's visit to the shrine infuriated church officials. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the nation's highest-ranking African American bishop, condemned the visit in a statement released on Tuesday morning.

"I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree," he said.

The visit was the second Mr Trump made to a religious site in the space of a day. On Monday evening, the president left the White House to visit the St John’s Episcopal Church, for a photo opportunity.

Both appearances came amid protests across the US, where protesters have been demonstrating in opposition to police brutality against Black Americans, following the death of George Floyd.

Mr Floyd died last week after then Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck while detaining him.

The protests started in Minneapolis, but quickly spread to Chicago and New York, and many other cities across the US over the weekend.

In order for the president to get to the church, he had to cross Lafayette Square, which was full of demonstrators protesting outside the White House gates.

Before he left the executive mansion, police were ordered to disperse the group of protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, creating a clear path for him to get to the church.

Bishops in charge of the St John’s Episcopal Church were not made aware that the president was going to be at the church to get his picture taken.

Around 20 bishops and volunteers, who were giving out snacks and refreshments to protesters, were told the leave the church so that Mr Trump could have his picture taken.

The Right Reverend Mariann Budde, who is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, released a statement saying that he was outraged that the president chose that moment to visit the church for a photo opportunity.

“The president just used a Bible and one of the churches of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for,” she said.

“To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the churchyard.”

Reverend Gini Gerbasi, from a nearby church in Georgetown, told Religious News Service that when she left briefly to get supplies, armed police began to set off tear gas to expel protesters.

“I was suddenly coughing from the tear gas. We heard those explosions and people would drop to the ground because you weren’t sure what it was,” Ms Gerbasi said.

“They turned holy ground into a battleground.”

Read more

Biden hits out at Trump over threat to crush protests