Qur'an Studies, Answered Prayers, 'Great Faiths,' and More

In an interview with Beliefnet in the final weeks of the election, George W. Bush discussed the separation of church and state

BY: Steven Waldman

 
Memo to Christians: George W. Bush favors giving taxpayer money to help spread the message of the Qur'an.

As odd as that might sound, it's actually the logical conclusion of his long-stated position that government should give more money to faith-based groups. In a Beliefnet interview earlier this week, Bush made it clear just how much he would redefine traditional notions of separation of church and state.

He also spoke readily about how his personal faith in Jesus Christ--his understanding that he is a "lowly sinner"--has affected his political style. And he spoke openly (and surprisingly) about moments when he believed prayers of his had been answered.

Bush has long said he supports giving federal money to programs that teach the Bible to prisoners. Asked how he'd feel if money went to a Muslim program that taught the Qur'an, he said, "I wouldn't object at all--if the program worked."

When pressed on the basic constitutional question, Bush stood his ground:

Beliefnet: [You'd support that] even though, effectively, it would mean that taxpayer money would be going to help a group teach the Qur'an or the Bible?

Bush: Right. That's right. A results-oriented world says "Let's achieve some common objectives and some common goals and if teaching Bible study or the Qur'an is a method that works, we should welcome it, so long as it's a voluntary program."

Government for many years has paid religious groups to perform social services. Catholic Charities, for instance, gets government funding to help deliver social services to the poor--but not to teach Catholic doctrine.

In recent years, some legislators have wanted to expand what faith-based groups could do. The welfare reform law signed by President Clinton, and backed by Al Gore, allowed faith-based groups to retain their spiritual character while accepting government money. But even that law prohibited the groups from using taxpayer funds for "inherently religious" activities such as "sectarian worship, instruction, or proselytization."

But Bush's statements in the Beliefnet interview go even further. He says government money should help groups offer explicitly religious instruction--as long as the program reduces criminal recidivism, drug abuse, or some other social problem. Bush is, in effect, saying that immediate, pressing social goals like reduced drug use trump the constitutional issues.

Continued on page 2: »

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