Religion questions: Are spiritual advisers to the president constitutional?

President Donald Trump closes his eyes during a prayer lead by pastor Paula White during a dinner celebrating evangelical leadership in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, Aug. 27, 2018. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is part of Religion: Got questions?, a series answering your biggest religious questions. Each week, we will answer one submitted faith question. To send a submission visit here or email

Question: If one of our country's founding principles is the separation of church and state, why are presidents allowed to have spiritual advisers that take an active role in influencing Christians' perception of the President?

Much ink has been spilled analyzing the president's spiritual advisers. From Paula White, the Florida megachurch pastor and adviser to President Donald Trump, to Joshua DuBois, who sent daily devotionals to President Barack Obama.

These individuals act as counselors to the commander in chief in a role that has stretched back across decades of administrations. While the First Amendment bars the government from establishing or regulating religion, the president is free to counsel with anyone, including spiritual advisers, without violating the amendment, said Michael McConnell, Stanford Law School professor and director of the school's Constitutional Law Center.