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God and Man in the Oval Office

From the March 17, 2003 issue: Contrary to what his critics say, Bush's religion is in the American mainstream.

Mar 17, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 26 • By FRED BARNES
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In his speech to the broadcasters, the president emphasized faith's life-changing power. Bush believes strongly in this, an aide says, for the simple reason that "it happened to him." Faith, he said, "defines some of the most effective social programs in America. It's that spirit of love and compassion which makes healing lives work."

Bush raised the theme of providence in his State of the Union address and returned to it in his nine-minute talk at the prayer breakfast. "We believe, as Franklin Roosevelt said, that men and women born to freedom in the image of God will not forever suffer the oppressor's sword," he said. "We can also be confident in the ways of Providence, even when they are far from our understanding." Bush said he prays to God for guidance, wisdom, and forgiveness, and he said the same when asked at his East Room press conference last week how his faith guides him on the eve of war with Iraq. He said nothing about praying for God's marching orders.

For anyone offended by Bush's reference to God as the source of human rights, as the reporter questioning Gerson was, a little history might be instructive. "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?" That question was asked by Thomas Jefferson, a deist, not a religious zealot. "The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the Hand of God," John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address. No one was offended by Kennedy's comment, which Bush echoed in his State of the Union address. And no one should be offended now.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.