Religion has no place in the White House

By Lawrence Bailey

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

This is the opening of the First Amendment of the American Constitution. In 1791, the American people altered their constitution to entrench the separation of Church and State. Now, in 2001, a bumbling baseball tycoon from Texas has the gall to see himself as larger than that revered document. American President George W. Bush may as well turn the Oval Office into a Methodist Church for the morally superior on Capitol Hill.

Since assuming the Office of the President Jan. 21, Bush has taken alarming steps to blur the lines between the holy and the powerful. One statement, building on his appointment of ultra-conservative Senator John Ashcroft to the post of attorney general and his opposition to Roe vs. Wade, came on the 28th anniversary of the landmark abortion rights decision.

"We share a great goal, to work toward a day when every child is welcomed and protected in law," stated Bush in a pre-written statement read to an anti-abortion march in Washington.

While his words are not often taken seriously (in many cases they shouldn’t be), his actions are disturbingly powerful. On his first day in power, Bush reinstated a ban on federal funding of any group associated with abortion or abortion counselling. Many of the groups hit hardest were non-profit organizations or NGO’s that work primarily with the urban poor. Are these children whose funding he retracted the same children who are "welcomed and protected in law?" What exactly is he doing to improve the lives he "saves" by blacklisting abortion, and possibly increasing child poverty?

President Bush has an answer for both these questions: his White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Faith-based initiatives, programs he initially introduced as Governor of Texas, are the redistribution of funds from existing social programs (like those cut due to their pro-choice stance) to individual church congregations to help them fund their own local social programs.

One of the most contentious aspects of these reforms is the condition that anyone receiving aid must join in prayer and Bible readings, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. That is an imposition of religion that violates another part of the aforementioned first amendment: the right to religious freedom.

Religion is a matter of choice, and one must lead by example. It’s not about the faith of the majority, and when it comes to secular legislation it’s not about faith at all. To say that anyone who does not ascribe to a major monotheistic doctrine cannot qualify for a gamut of social services is discriminatory, intolerant and inhumane.

Bush has his own reasons for supporting such violations of constitutional and human rights, as he revealed when the program was introduced in Texas.

"In the final analysis, there is no overcoming anything without faith–be it drugs or alcohol or poverty."

What George W. Bush must realize is that poverty has no religion.

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