"Massachusetts is a ?blue state'; there's no room for God here!" -- William Shatner, playing Denny Crane, in "Boston Legal"
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Humor works because there's always a grain of truth in it. But there's nothing funny about the ongoing attacks on God when it comes to the personal faith of the president of the United States.
Michael Newdow, an atheist from the blue state of California who has made a name for himself by challenging any public utterance or mention of "God" as an affront to his constitutional rights, recently declared that there is no room for God in the rest of the country, either. Citing the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment, he filed suit in federal court to prevent any mention of God in Thursday's inaugural ceremonies -- including the president's own personal remarks.
Rightly, the Supreme Court disagreed, and on Thursday, in his inaugural address, President Bush publicly asked God to bless this land and the hope of freedom we offer others. The antipathy Newdow and other non-believers feel toward the president began during the 2000 election campaign, when then-Gov. Bush was asked during a debate what "philosopher" had most influenced him. Bush's response: "Jesus Christ. He changed my heart. He changed my life."
Four years in the Oval Office haven't changed that perspective. A few days ago, President Bush, reflecting on the challenges he's had to face as chief executive, said he doesn't "see how you can be president, at least from my perspective, how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord."
It was enough to make atheists like Newdow race for the microphones and cameras. But rather than howling about the president's admission, they should have thanked whatever non-God-like entity they consider paramount that a man of faith like George W. Bush is our president.
It is precisely his "at least from my perspective" stipulation that separates George Bush from those who would impose their religion -- or lack of it -- on others by decree or the sword. In a recent interview with the editors of the Washington Times, Bush made it clear that "the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit. That's what distinguishes us from the Taliban."
Far from establishing a state religion, as Newdow alleges, President Bush has clearly expressed precisely the opposite. This conviction of personal faith, balanced by a respect of each individual's right to worship -- or not -- according to his or her conscience, isn't unique to George W. Bush. In fact, it extends back 215 years to the foundation of our republic.
This week, Bush visited the National Archives to view our first president's inaugural address and the Bible George Washington kissed after taking the oath of office in 1789. Later that year, Washington -- an Episcopalian -- wrote to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, "Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience."
On the issue of religious freedom, Washington and Bush sound a lot alike. But our first and 43rd presidents share another common characteristic: humility -- humility before the laws of God and a respect for the laws of men.
President Bush's evangelical Methodist faith informs him that he is not to judge others' motives. Christianity teaches that conversions cannot be coerced or mandated and that all people, regardless of their race, socio-economic status or political office, are fundamentally equal, subject to the laws of the land and -- most importantly -- accountable to a higher power. For those of us tired of hiding our beliefs lest we "offend" anyone, President Bush is an example of how to live one's faith in the public square: with respect, enthusiasm, openness and, above all, humility.
Humility, though, is not timidity. It is not a subservient disposition that quiets all assertions of strength or conviction. Humility is recognition of the simplicity of truth and a willful, joyful submission of any self-importance or ego to the cause of promoting truth.
As evidenced by his words and actions, President Bush apparently recognizes the truths that his faith dictates, fundamental truths that include hope that others will accept Jesus Christ as their savior. This is the desire of every Christian. We're supposed to respect the beliefs of others -- and pray that God will grant the openness of heart and mind to see the truth to those who do not understand or accept.
Unfortunately, that's too much for some. After President Bush made it clear that he believes in the right of every person to worship or not according to their conscience, Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, responded, "He just doesn't get it ... and he seems to ignore the fact that in our Constitution we do not have a religious test for those seeking public office ... he does not respect the diversity of the country."
Johnson apparently missed the "at least from my perspective" caveat. She demands to be heard and stresses the importance of diversity -- yet she seems to have difficulty granting such consideration to others.
Like his 42 predecessors, Bush invoked the protection and blessing of the Almighty on the nation in his inaugural address. He stands for what he believes is right and supports the rights of others to disagree. He is unashamed to pray for wisdom, peace, and the spread of freedom and justice. And above all, he maintains humility. We're blessed to have such a man as our president.