Saturday, October 15, 2005

God's White House / Using government employees to talk about faith

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

President Bush's statement that White House officials are conducting an "outreach effort" to reassure his supporters about Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers' religious beliefs is astonishing and, possibly, inconsistent with the First Amendment's stricture on separation of church and state.

White House officials are public employees whose salaries are paid by the American taxpayer. The idea of people on the federal payroll going out or telephoning other Americans to explain what Ms. Miers' religious views are -- to tell them not to oppose her because her church affiliation and beliefs make her almost certainly anti-choice on abortion -- is truly repellent.

It approaches a case of the U.S. government promoting particular religious beliefs. Let us imagine that President John F. Kennedy had lived, had sought a second term and had faced questions about his Catholicism, as he did in the 1960 campaign. Would he then have used White House officials to explain to any Catholics with reservations about him -- or to people of other faiths -- that they shouldn't be worried about his religious convictions?

One also has to wonder which administration officials are carrying the word on Ms. Miers. Unless the White House is now full of evangelical Christians, it must mean that employees who are Catholics, Jews, mainstream Protestants or nonreligious are being asked to tell conservatives the good news about Ms. Miers' faith.

President Bush's outreach program on Harriet Miers is inappropriate and should stop immediately. Otherwise, it will be time for someone to file suit to stop this misuse of supposedly religiously-neutral government officials.


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