Bush rhetoric crosses church-state line

By Margaret Poe 2004

Our president believes in Him. So do millions of people across the country and around the world; however, millions of others believe in someone or something entirely different, if at all. And , strangely enough, George W. Bush knows this almost as well as he knows his current approval ratings, yet one hears a clear defiance of this truth in his speech.

To those members of the public blissfully unaware of Bush’s religious references, I shall enlighten thou. This year’s State of the Union Address, the speech which sets the standard for the entire year’s politics, featured a not-so-subtle slip into religious jargon. Reflecting upon where Americans place their trust, Bush said, “… placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history. May He guide us now.” He did not choose to say “a loving god” or even “the marvels of nature and science” behind all of history. No, he chose, in what was clearly a conscious decision, to imply that his Christian beliefs are superior.

Bush makes these types of comments quite frequently. After Sept. 11, everyone seemed a little more religious, including Bush. In the speech made on the one-year anniversary of teh attacks, he said, “We are commanded by God and called by our conscience to love others as we would want to be loved ourselves.” There he used a Commandment as well as a calling to God to dictate his feelings. And more recently, another tragedy spurred consolation through the Christian faith. “The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today,” Bush said in a statement regarding the Columbia disaster.

Benjamin Webb, a reverend at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cedar Falls, commented about Bush’s statement after the disaster. “It calls for some real compassion,” he said, to make a statement after such an occurrence. He thought that Bush’s remarks would be widely embraced across all religions.

Tragedies pose a special and difficult circumstance for a president, but, as I state previously, Bush odes not limit his God-speak to such incidences. Webb said there is a kind of formula to State of the Union Addresses, and that the president’s closing remarks are keeping with the Western religious tradition of mentioning the dominant religion of the country in the speech.

As Webb said, religion has been a part of president’s speeches for centuries. In fact, George Washington’s State of the Union Address, the first in history, included, “… to secure the blessing which a gracious Providence has placed within our reach.” But, to me, this comment seems demure in contrast to Bush’s sweeping declarations of God.

A teacher at Cedar Falls High School said, “Society has ebbs and flows in its leaders choosing to express their religious beliefs.” This makes sense; we must be caught at high tide with President Bush.

Clearly, everyone sees this issue a little differently. CFHS Principal Dean Dreyer said of the president’s comments, “He’s our president, and he probably sets the tone for how we act or react; however, my understanding of the separation of church and state is that it’s a legal issue.”

As the president sets an example for the nation, it concerns me that he says some of the things he does. It’s not that I feel he is trying to convert anyone, but I think that it excludes too many people when he mentions one God for whom the collective we as a nation should bless. Webb said that, while Episcopalians feel that a separation of church and state is critically important, there is a lot of confusion about what it means. Dreyer also said that when religion is intertwined with secular life, it can be confusing to people. I know it can confuse me.

So what is an American to think about this issue? Dreyer said, “There’s no doubt from his comments he’s a deeply religious individual.” No one can dispute that fact, I’m sure, but it’s how Bush shares his religion that creates a stir. To me, it doesn’t seem right that someone who has no belief in a higher power need feel insulted by the president of this country, and this is a country where religious freeedom is one of our proudest establishments.

I do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, but I do know one thing. The separation of church and state is a great thing, one which He may not ordain or him (Bush) either, but I know I do.

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