- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

President Bush’s declaration that he can’t imagine anyone serving in the Oval Office “without a relationship with the Lord” has pleased groups that say public expressions of faith have been discouraged for too long.

“We believe that not only the president, but everyone would be much better off for eternity with a relationship with the Lord,” said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy at Focus on the Family. “The president should not be criticized for stating what he believes by faith. Every American has the right to do that.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, added that he doesn’t think “anyone should be upset or worried” about Mr. Bush’s words — even if his reference to “the Lord” means Jesus Christ.

“I haven’t heard him say his faith is the only truth, the one truth,” Mr. Foxman said. “He talks about respect for people’s faith or nonfaith.”

Mr. Bush discussed the role of his Christian faith in his personal life and presidency in an Oval Office interview last week with The Washington Times.

He acknowledged that “there are some who worry about a president who is faith-based, a person who openly admits that [he] accepts the prayers of the people.”

Mr. Bush said he would never try “to impose his will on others,” but he couldn’t see “how you can be president, at least from my perspective … without a relationship with the Lord.”

Conservative Christians were heartened to hear Mr. Bush express his beliefs so candidly and noted their continuity with the mainstream of American history.

“Most of our presidents were very forthright in their Christian convictions,” Mr. Minnery said. “I think what we’re seeing here is an ever more desperate attempt by atheists to deny the very motto of the country, ‘One Nation Under God.’”

Mr. Minnery noted that even religious tolerance is part of the Christian tradition.

“People who do not believe in the Christian faith ought to be thankful that this is a Christian country,” Mr. Minnery said. “Christianity is voluntary. No Christian can force anybody to accept the Christian faith.

“Christians, above all, recognize freedom of conscience. They realize some will turn away,” he said. “Therefore, a country governed by Christian principles is a country that guards religious freedom religiously.”

Mr. Bush took time out Saturday to mark “Religious Freedom Day,” commemorating the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786 and citing President Washington writing about “the liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshipping Almighty God agreeably to their consciences, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights.”

“Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of freedom of religion to a stable and lasting union,” Mr. Bush wrote in his official proclamation. “As the United States advances the cause of liberty, we remember that freedom is not America’s gift to the world, but God’s gift to each man and woman in this world.”

Mr. Bush famously named Jesus Christ as the most influential political philosopher of his life while running in the 2000 presidential race. Vice President Al Gore also told The Washington Post during the campaign that if faced with difficult problems, he “would ask what Jesus would do.”

Mr. Foxman said his organization was critical of both candidates’ comments, as it has opposed Mr. Bush’s faith-based initiative, which gives public dollars to religious organizations to provide services for the poor.

“We said Jesus Christ can be your moral guide, but not your political philosopher,” Mr. Foxman said. “That is where the line is crossed.”

That said, Mr. Foxman asked: “Why isn’t it OK for the president to have faith?”

“The moment you serve the public, you shouldn’t have to put away your faith,” he said.

At the end of Mr. Bush’s conversation with The Washington Times, he stressed that “the president’s job is not to pick religion.”

“The president’s job is not to say you’ve got to be religious,” he said. “The president’s job is to say each is free to choose it. And it’s really important that that be clear today, given the world in which we live. And if you’re a Sikh or Muslim or a Methodist or anybody else for that matter, it’s an important message.”

But that assurance wasn’t enough for Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists.

“He just doesn’t get it,” Mrs. Johnson said. “And he seems to ignore the fact that in our Constitution we do not have a religious test for those seeking public office.”

The interview “demonstrates clearly that he does not respect the diversity of the country, and the fact that nonbelievers and so-called seculars are one of the fastest-growing segments of American society.”

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