President George Bush and the Separation of Church and State

Church & State, February 2001 | Go to article overview

President George Bush and the Separation of Church and State


Attorney General nominee John D. Ashcroft has some decidedly controversial views on the relationship between religion and government in America.

In a May 1999 speech at Bob Jones University, he outlined some of them. "Unique among the nations," said Ashcroft, "America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. And because we have understood that our source is eternal, America has been different. We have no king but Jesus."

Ashcroft traced his assertion about the kingship of Jesus to Americans of the Revolutionary War period. Those early Americans, he said, rebuffed the king's tax collectors by declaring their reliance on Jesus, not George III.

But Ashcroft's speech troubled many because he seemed to see a Christian theological basis for American government today. Later in his remarks, he contrasted our culture to others and observed, "When you have no king but Jesus, you release the eternal, you release the highest and best, you release virtue, you release potential.... If America is to be great in the future, it will be if we understand that our source is not civic and temporal, but our source is godly and eternal."

Ashcroft is, of course, fully entitled to hold whatever religious opinions he chooses. Our Constitution guarantees him the free exercise of religion. But that same Constitution also forbids the establishment of any religion by the government.

America is not an officially Christian nation, and we are founded on freedom of conscience, not the Christian faith. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and adherents of all faiths are welcome here, along with those who have chosen no spiritual path at all.

It is no surprise that many Americans -- including members of the Senate -- felt that Ashcroft's view on the church-state issue and many others disqualified him for the role of the nation's chief law enforcement officer. The nominee's resolute opposition to individual rights and his apparent indifference to religious and racial diversity raised warning flags in many quarters.

Just as troubling, however, is the fact that Ashcroft was apparently chosen by President-elect George W. Bush at the behest of Bush's cronies in the Religious Right. According to credible news reports, Bush had other men in mind for the post, but James Dobson and allied Religious Right leaders lobbied persistently for Ashcroft. …

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