WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush said Feb. 1 at the National Prayer Breakfast he would not attempt to impose his Christian beliefs on Americans while he is in the White House.
Speaking at an annual event that began in the 1950s, the new president said of the United States, “We do not impose any religion; we welcome all religions. We do not prescribe any prayer; we welcome all prayers. This is the tradition of our nation, and it will be the standard of my administration. We will respect every creed. We will honor the diversity of our country and the deep convictions of our people.”
Bush’s 13-minute address came before an audience at a Washington hotel that included, as usual, members of Congress from both parties, foreign dignitaries and religious leaders from around the world.
Bush acknowledged that a president serves people of every faith and of no faith but added, “Yet I have found my faith helps me in the service to people. Faith teaches humility. … a recognition that we are small in God’s universe, yet precious in his sight. It has sustained me in moments of success and in moments of disappointment. Without it I would be a different person, and without it I doubt I’d be here today.”
Bush has talked publicly about the change that came to his life in the 1980s and of a relationship with Christ. He and his wife, Laura, are Methodists, and they visited a predominantly black Methodist church in Washington the previous Sunday.
He said the contributions of faith to the United States include justice, compassion and civility.
The president spoke of his proposal on faith-based initiatives introduced earlier in the week. His plan is designed to encourage giving to nonprofit organizations that provide social services, as well as enable faith-based and other charities to receive federal funds in their work. Some church-state organizations have expressed opposition to or reservations about the proposal.
“Our plan will not favor religious institutions over non-religious institutions,” Bush said. “As president, I’m interested in what is constitutional, and I’m interested in what works. The days of discriminating against religious institutions, simply because they are religious, must come to an end.”
Faith also can produce civility, Bush said.
“We have an obligation to make our case, not to demonize our opponents,” Bush said. “I am under no illusion that civility will triumph in this city all at once. Old habits die hard and sometimes they never die at all. I can only pledge to you this — that I will do my very best to promote civility and ask for the same in return.”
Later in the day, Bush’s nominee for attorney general, John Ashcroft, won Senate confirmation after a vitriolic campaign against him.
Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., delivered the keynote speech at the breakfast.
Rep. Zach Wamp, R.-Tenn., was the master of ceremonies. His pastor, Fred Steelman of Red Bank Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Steelman’s wife, Becky, were seated at the head table.