Excerpts from a press briefing with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, February 6, 2003.

Q. Ari, the National Council of Churches, led by a former Democratic congressman, the Reverend Bob Edgar, has enlisted a bishop, Melvin Talbert, of the President's Methodist Church, to do a TV commercial, reported by The Washington Post, in which this Methodist bishop claims, "Going to war against Iraq violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ." And my question is: Since the President is widely known to be a deeply religious person, he surely does not want you to suggest by any evasion that he agrees or does not care about this Methodist bishop's claim. So what is his answer to this bishop's charge of violating God's law?

MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the decisions that the President makes about war and peace and about whether or not force needs to be used in Iraq are based on the President's judgments as a secular leader about what is necessary to protect this country. The President is a deeply religious man. But these are decisions that the President will make based on intelligence reports, based on information that he is aware of on how to protect our country from potential attack. That's what's on the President's mind -- particularly since September 11th.

Q. Ari, two things. A group of bishops and pastors from the National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, sent a letter to the President last week. They said they want a meeting face-to-face with him because they're "uneasy about the moral justification for war on Iraq." Will the President meet with these church leaders?

MR. FLEISCHER: As always, we'll fill you in on the President's schedule, but I want to emphasize again the President is a deeply religious man, and there are many people in a variety of religions who are going to have different thoughts about how to keep the peace and whether or not to go to war with Saddam Hussein. The President will respect their thoughts, and he will act as he sees fit as Commander-in-Chief to protect the country.

Q. One question on that. You just said the President is a deeply religious man. Jesus Christ was an absolute pacifist. How does the President square his militarism with Jesus' pacifism?

Q. No, he wasn't --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there may be a debate in the press corps about your question. Russell, I --

Q. How about the -- at the temple with a whip, where he beat the hell out of those money-changers? Does that sound like he's an absolute pacifist, Ari?

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