Donald Trump has claimed his opponent in the upcoming US election, former vice president Joe Biden, is “against God” and will “hurt the Bible” if he wins in November.
The President visited the key swing state Ohio today, and spoke to a crowd of supporters at Cleveland Airport.
“(Biden is) following the radical left agenda – take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment. No religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible, hurt God,” Mr Trump told them.
“He’s against God, he’s against guns. He’s against energy, our kind of energy.”
The catalyst for this line of attack on God and guns appears to have been the New York Attorney-General’s announcement earlier today of a lawsuit against America’s powerful firearm lobby group, the National Rifle Association.
Attorney-General Letitia James, a Democrat, is seeking to “dissolve the organisation in its entirety”. She alleges the NRA’s senior leaders, CEO Wayne LaPierre among them, have been illegally using the non-profit charitable organisation’s funds as a personal “piggy bank” to fund their luxurious lifestyles.
The NRA has denounced the lawsuit as a “politically motivated” attack on Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Mr Biden’s policy platform calls for a ban on the sale of new assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He would allow people who already own such weapons to sell them back voluntarily, or otherwise register them with the government. The former vice president also wants to implement universal background checks.
He frequently argues that “weapons of war” have no place in civilian communities.
There is nothing in his platform to suggest he is “against God”.
Mr Biden is a practising Catholic, and has spoken publicly about the role his faith played in helping him deal with the tragic deaths of his first wife Neilia, one-year-old daughter Naomi and eldest son Beau.
“For me, my religion is just an enormous sense of solace,” Mr Biden told late night TV host Stephen Colbert in 2015, shortly after Beau died.
“Some of it relates to ritual, some of it relates to just comfort, in what you’ve done your whole life. I go to mass and I’m able to be just alone, even in a crowd. You’re alone.
“What my faith has done is, it sort of takes everything about my life, with my parents and my siblings and all the comforting things, and all the good things that have happened have happened around the culture of my religion.
“I don’t know how to explain it more than that. It’s just a place you can go.”
He cited a quote by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “Faith sees best in the dark.”
This isn’t the sort of stuff you would normally expect to hear from a candidate who is “against God”.
The Biden campaign responded to Mr Trump’s remarks by essentially calling the President a hypocrite.
“Joe Biden’s faith is at the core of who he is. He’s lived it with dignity his entire life, and it’s been a source of strength and comfort in times of extreme hardship,” campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said.
“Donald Trump is the only president in our history to have tear-gassed peaceful Americans and thrown a priest out of his church just so he could profane it – and a Bible – for his own cynical optics as he sought to tear our nation apart in a moment of crisis and pain.
“And this comes just one day after Trump’s campaign abused a photo of Joe Biden praying in church to demean him, in one of the starkest expressions of weakness throughout this whole campaign.”
Mr Bates was referring to a photo of Mr Biden praying at the Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The Trump campaign used it in a negative ad, which portrayed Mr Biden as “alone, hiding and diminished”.
“Biden has no answers, and after five decades of failure, he never will,” the ad declares, with the darkened image of Mr Biden looking downcast in church as a backdrop.
The Biden campaign’s statement also mentioned Mr Trump’s controversial photo op outside St John’s Church in Washington D.C. amid the protests against police brutality back in June.
Protesters were driven out of the area by force to clear a path for the President. Mr Trump then posed for photos in front of the church, holding up a Bible, before promptly returning to the White House.
A few hours after that statement from his campaign, Mr Biden personally released a much longer response to the President.
“My faith has been the bedrock foundation of my life. It’s provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it’s kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy,” he said.
“And in this moment of darkness for our country – of pain, of division, and of sickness for so many Americans – my faith has been a guiding light for me and a constant reminder of the fundamental dignity and humanity that God has bestowed upon all of us.
“For President Trump to attack my faith is shameful. It’s beneath the office he holds and it’s beneath the dignity the American people so rightly expect and deserve from their leaders.
“However, like the words of so many other insecure bullies, President Trump’s comments reveal more about him than they do about anyone else. They show us a man willing to stoop to any low for political gain, and someone whose actions are completely at odds with the values and teachings that he professes to believe in.
“My faith teaches me to love my neighbour as I would myself, while President Trump only seeks to divide us. My faith teaches me to care for the least among us, while President Trump seems to only be concerned about his gilded friends.
“My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump tear-gassed peaceful protesters so he could walk over to a church for a photo op.
“President Trump’s decision today to profane God and to smear my faith in a political attack is a stark reminder of what the stakes of this fight truly are.”
As a group, evangelical Christians are among Mr Trump’s most loyal voters, so it certainly does make sense for him to court their continued support.
The President himself is Presbyterian, though he rarely attends church and does not seem particularly familiar with scripture.
During a famously awkward interview in August of 2015, Bloomberg Politics asked Mr Trump to name his favourite verses from the Bible.
“You mention the Bible. You’ve been talking about how it’s your favourite book. And you said, I think last night in Iowa, that some people are surprised that you say that,” one of the interviewers said.
“I’m wondering what one or two of your most favourite Bible verses are, and why?”
“Well I wouldn’t want to get into it, because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible, it’s very personal. So I don’t want to get into verses,” Mr Trump replied.
“There’s no verse that means a lot to you, that you think about or cite?” the reporter pressed.
“The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics,” said Mr Trump.
“Even to cite a verse that you like?” asked the reporter, increasingly puzzled. His colleague jumped in with a new question.
“Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?” he asked.
“Uh, probably … equal,” Mr Trump said.
“I think it’s just an incredible, the whole Bible is just an incredible – I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say, ‘My second favourite book of all time.’
“But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special.”
The subject of Mr Trump’s favourite verse came up again a short time after that Bloomberg interview, when he spoke to the Christian Broadcasting Network. That time, he was ready with an answer.
“Proverbs, the chapter ‘never bend to envy,’” Mr Trump said.
“I’ve had that thing all of my life, where people are bending to envy.”
When people pointed out that there is nothing in the Bible about “bending to envy”, Mr Trump’s campaign staff clarified that he was talking about Proverbs 24:1-2.
“Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them. For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief,” it reads.
Several of Mr Trump’s critics responded to his remarks about Mr Biden’s religion today by bringing up his own record on the subject.
Mr Biden suffered his own bizarre moment today during an interview with the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, when he implied the African-American community was lacking in “diversity”.
“What you all know, but most people don’t know – unlike the African-American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community, with incredibly different attitudes about different things,” Mr Biden said.
The Trump campaign decried the comment as “disgusting”, and the President himself said Mr Biden had just “lost the entire African-American community”.
“The condescending white liberal racism that oozes out of Joe Biden is disgusting,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson.
“Now he arrogantly tells a group of black reporters that ‘you all know’ that black people think alike. There’s a reason Joe Biden can’t count on the support of black voters and it’s because of his plantation owner mentality.”
Mr Biden was forced to issue a statement in response.
“Earlier today, I made some comments about diversity in the African-American and Latino communities that I want to clarify. In no way did I mean to suggest the African-American community is a monolith – not by identity, not on issues, not at all,” he said.
“Throughout my career I’ve witnessed the diversity of thought, background and sentiment within the African-American community. It’s this diversity that makes our workplaces, communities and country a better place.”