Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida often provides vague and uncertain responses about his religious faith. Yet, Roman Catholicism remains evident in his rhetoric and policies that cater to educated white evangelicals in his Republican presidential primary campaign.
Religious experts have had mixed responses to President Donald Trump’s culture war messaging. Although it fits his religious sensibilities well, it could put some voters off.
DeSantis’ religious rhetoric and hard-charging policies have been at the core of his outreach to white evangelical voters who helped propel him to win the Republican nomination. He has proposed measures that experts caution could weaken press freedoms, passed a law permitting residents to carry concealed firearms without needing a permit, and taken control of a liberal arts college he believes indoctrinates its students with leftist ideology.
But when it comes to his Catholicism, the culture warrior is more guarded. He frequently downplays it while offering vague platitudes about its meaning for him and his family. Casey attends church regularly, but she remains quiet about her beliefs in public settings – media reports often do not include specific details about them, instead referring to him simply as “Catholic” or highlighting broad aspects.
DeSantis rarely speaks about his faith; when he does so, it tends to be through stories from his upbringing or his family’s deep religious devotion. Growing up in Dunedin, Florida, and attending local Catholic school was essential in developing his solid Catholic roots; his mother counts nuns and priests among her siblings – his uncle officiated his wedding while following his first inauguration, and he even baptized the governor’s son at his mansion with water collected during their congressional trip to Israel (custodial staff later disposed of it).
He often cites Bible passages in his speeches, including Ephesians 6:12, which tells believers to put on all their armor – one of his favorites being Ephesians 6:12. In one speech, he mentioned Ephesians 6:12 which instructs believers to “put on all the full armor of God.” He has stated that America needs to restore discipline and hard work as found by its founders – something the president believes needs to happen today.
He has often spoken about prayer being central to his life, particularly since the Supreme Court decision overturning abortion access laws in several states and his wife’s cancer diagnosis leading to her passing due to pulmonary embolism. When an interviewer asked where he stood on church teachings, however, his reply provided was in no way direct or responsive to that question.
DeSantis may position himself as an advocate of Catholic values, yet in practice, he does little to demonstrate his advocacy for them. He and Casey rarely discuss their specific religious beliefs publicly, instead focusing more on generalizations about how much faith means to them.
As part of his rhetoric, Donald Trump positions himself as an aggressive warrior in the war between cultural conservatives and leftists for America’s soul, using Bible verses as part of an effort to reach evangelicals who could help him win both the Republican nomination and eventually, presidential power.
But, in a campaign focused on immigration and death penalties, few details regarding DeSantis’ religious practices have come to light. Unlike President Joe Biden, who regularly prays the rosary and proudly claims Catholicism, DeSantis generally keeps his spiritual life more of an afterthought in media coverage, using vague Christian terminology when discussing it. He’s only been photographed publicly attending Mass twice since becoming governor – at Ave Maria University during its Culture War-infused graduation celebration and Blue Mass for police officers killed on duty.
DeSantis answered in general terms when asked about his religious beliefs: he is Catholic and believes in Jesus Christ without providing details. His family attends church regularly, and prayer was influential during his wife’s 2021 cancer diagnosis and subsequent survival. Unfortunately, DeSantis’ staff hasn’t confirmed if he and his wife attend the same church in Tallahassee where they reside or their frequency of attendance; however, according to their cathedral membership rector, they attend regularly.
DeSantis recently shared his view that protecting religious liberty was of utmost importance and stressed how the best way to do this is to support candidates who respect it. His dialogue highlighted his use of his faith as part of his political platform without making clear exactly what his religious convictions tell him to do; such an approach may alienate Catholic voters who are tired of politics as usual and want someone who will put their values into action.
3. Social organization
DeSantis hails from a Catholic family but prefers to keep his religious life private. While he often uses religious rhetoric in campaign speeches and debates, he rarely reveals where he and Casey attend church. DeSantis and his staff have tried to win over white evangelical voters who play an essential role in early primary contests such as Florida.
DeSantis presents himself as an agent of God sent by Him to rid America of leftist ideology. As part of his campaign platform, DeSantis often quoted from Ephesians, where Paul instructs them to don “the full armor of God” against their adversary – something DeSantis applied spiritual warfare theory against abortion, COVID lockdowns, and what he claims is indoctrinating students and workers within public schools and corporations.
DeSantis may not have directly addressed religion during his presidential campaign, but his use of religious rhetoric and hardline policies have made him popular with conservative evangelicals. Additionally, DeSantis has established himself as a pro-life and anti-immigration champion by supporting legislation banning federal funding for abortion and advocating against immigration to the US.
DeSantis has also been an outspoken critic of social safety net programs and entitlements, orchestrating a 2013 government shutdown to oppose Obamacare while pushing for cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and taxes on wealthy earners and corporations.
Generalized, his political philosophy involves distancing himself from the federal government and believing it should prioritize state and local concerns. He frequently criticizes Democrats for failing to support these principles while promising that he will oppose liberal overreach in Congress.
DeSantis’ religiosity and culture war activism is vital to his political platform. Yet, his attacks against pluralism pose a real risk for someone who claims a belief in freedom over everything else. If each bough of liberty were cut too tightly, it could turn into an impediment to progress, thus endangering all aspects of democracy – DeSantis is risking this with his assaults on free speech, which threatens everything he stands for.
DeSantis’ faith plays an integral role in his perceptions and decisions. He frequently invokes biblical verses during legislative debates and political speeches; when discussing abortion and transgender healthcare, he uses Biblical texts to justify his anti-choice views as well as opposition to LGBTQ rights; similarly, he invokes stories of child martyrs to justify his anti-vaccine position, characterizing vaccines as “groomers” that harm children; these arguments galvanize some Catholics while offending others through overt hate speech.
DeSantis stands out among his Republican colleagues by not hiding his faith. His staff has confirmed he regularly attends church services in Tallahassee. During campaign rallies, he frequently refers to himself as doing God’s work or using his religion to make good decisions for the governorship. When interviewed by Christian Broadcasting Network about where he stood on Catholicism and what values it imparted upon him as a leader, DeSantis offered a vague response about raising his children with those principles while avoiding indoctrination while doing God’s Will.
His most telling moments of faith come when discussing trials and tragedies, such as after his sister died; after her funeral, he confided that prayer helped him cope. Additionally, he has used religion to support capital punishment and criticize Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, who advocates for using new Black history curriculums in schools.
DeSantis frequently employs biblical passages in his speeches to appeal to the right wing of his party while flirting with the idea of creating a “Christian nation.” Additionally, much of his rhetoric on abortion, vaccination, and the death penalty often draws from theories of good and evil – something that religious leaders find offensive as it could empower white nationalists or other groups who wish to use religion against governments as a form of mobilization against the state. This language has caused debate within religious circles, while some political observers fear this rhetoric could encourage them.