WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump unleashed another strident attack on Joe Biden over religion on Thursday, saying his Democratic opponent – and devout Catholic – is "against God" and even religion itself.
“No religion, no anything," Trump told supporters at a brief airport rally in Cleveland as he visited Ohio for an economic speech. "Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God, he’s against guns, he’s against energy, our kind of energy.”
A spokesman for Biden, who has often talked about how his Catholic faith helped him survive the death of his first wife and their daughter in a 1972 car crash, described Trump as a hypocrite making a cynical appeal to religious conservatives.
"Joe Biden's faith is at the core of who he is," said spokesman Andrew Bates. "He's lived it with dignity his entire life, and it's been a source of strength and comfort in times of extreme hardship."
Bates noted that Trump backed his aides' decision to forcibly clear a park of protesters so that the president could walk to a church near the White House for a photo-op holding a Bible.
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"Donald Trump is the only president in our history to have tear-gassed peaceful Americans and thrown a priest out of her church just so he could profane it – and a Bible – for his own cynical optics as he sought to tear our nation apart at a moment of crisis and pain," Bates said.
Mariann Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said she was "outraged" by Trump's photo-op, adding that the president "used sacred symbols to cloak himself in the mantle of spiritual authority, while espousing positions antithetical to the Bible that he held in his hands."
Late last year Biden penned an op-ed for Religion News Service about how his Catholic faith taught him to stand up to abuse of power "as well as core concepts of decency, fair play and virtue."
Trump, who trails Biden in pre-election polls in Ohio and other swing states, has made appeals to religious conservatives by trying to link Biden to a "radical left agenda" that allegedly targets gun ownership, oil production, and religion.
The president has attacked Biden and the Democrats over faith on several occasions, telling supporters at a Pennsylvania tele-rally recently: "Essentially, they're against God if you look at what they're doing with religion."
Bates noted that the Trump campaign this week also distorteda photo of Biden praying in church in order "to demean him," calling it "one of the starkest expressions of weakness throughout this whole campaign."
Trump's comments about Biden and God are just as likely to turn off moderate and independent voters, said Doug Heye, a former Republican Party communications director who opposes the president.
"It's an over-the-top attack that only appeals to a slice of the base," Heye said.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump claims Biden is 'against God;' Biden team calls Trump a divider