Thousands of Christians signed an online petition condemning Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign, accusing him of “twisting religion” for political gain.
DeSantis, long viewed as the Republican with the greatest chance of beating former President Donald Trump in the GOP’s 2024 presidential primary election, made his campaign official on Wednesday, announcing that he’ll seek the presidency during a Twitter space hosted alongside Elon Musk.
As governor of the traditional swing state of Florida, DeSantis embraced right-wing culture war issues, including opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and passing one of the country’s most stringent bans on abortion, to build his national profile and support among the Republican Party’s conservative base, which is largely comprised of Christians.
However, not all Christians are on board with DeSantis’s campaign. The organization Faithful America, a Christian group that has warned against the growth of Christian nationalism in the United States, released a petition condemning DeSantis’s campaign on Wednesday.
The petition describes the governor as a “proud, far-right Catholic extremist” who “frequently invokes God on the campaign trail,” and is “already trying to cloak himself in religious support, bragging about a recent meeting with homophobic evangelist Franklin Graham.”
The petition as of Saturday morning has been signed more than 12,000 times, surpassing its original goal of 10,000 signatures. It dismissed the notion that DeSantis could be viewed as an alternative to Trump, warning that he will “bring his unholy Christian nationalism to the entire country as president.”
“DeSantis will likely paint himself as a more traditionally religious alternative to Trump, but his policy record is just as hateful and authoritarian,” the petition reads. “In DeSantis’s Florida, teachers can be fired for acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ people. Migrants are put on buses to random destinations, used as political pawns. Women are denied abortion care even when their pregnancy isn’t viable. This is not what it looks like to love your neighbor.”
Newsweek reached out to DeSantis’s campaign for comment via his campaign website.
Reverend Nathan Empsall, executive director of Faithful America, said in a statement to Newsweek on Saturday that Faithful America’s members are “tired” of seeing politicians who “manipulate the Bible while simultaneously oppressing their people with pseudo-fascist tactics.”
“His ‘Florida Blueprint’ is nothing more than a hateful, theocratic plan to enact a nationwide, anti-democracy Christian nationalist agenda that fires teachers for acknowledging the existence and humanity of LGBTQ people, uses migrants as political props, scapegoats people of color, threatens women’s health, and seeks revenge on his political opponents,” Empsall’s statement reads.
The petition also calls on Christians to reject DeSantis’s “hateful and divisive presidential campaign.”
“There’s no question that DeSantis’s campaign will double down on twisting religion—which means it’s more important than ever that we speak out together and prove that his Christofascism doesn’t speak for us or for our faith,” the petition reads.
DeSantis enacted several socially conservative laws in Florida, including the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which placed restrictions on discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Earlier this month, he also signed a law defunding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) departments at Florida public universities.
These policies have made him popular with the GOP’s conservative base, but have sparked widespread criticism from Democratic voters, as well as more moderate Republicans, including former GOP Representative David Jolly, who last week said he considered leaving Florida over DeSantis’s policies.