White House reporting legend Helen Thomas, writing for Hearst Newspapers, warns us to be mindful of those who would monkey with the constitution:
It seems no president has done so much to break down the wall of separation between church and state than Bush has.
A couple of weeks after he took office in 2001, Bush dropped into the White House press room to hold an impromptu news conference — his first as president. Every question but one was focused on his campaign’s proposed tax cut. But I asked the president why he did not respect the historic wall of separation of church and state.
“I do,” he replied.
“No, sir,” I said. “If you did, you would not create a religious office in the White House.” I was later called by Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, who asked me why I had “blindsided” the president with my church-state question. I told him I thought it was a “legitimate” question for the new president.
I grant you that there have been other presidents who have clouded the question, such as President Nixon, who held prayer gatherings on Sundays at the White House with invited ministers.
But none of this touched on the intrinsic question of separation of church and state.
The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was established by Bush in the White House, paving the way for church groups to win grants for social causes such as anti-drug programs and shelters for the homeless.
The president asked Congress to make it “legal” for religious groups to be given taxpayer money even when they discriminate against hiring people of other faiths. When Congress balked, Bush issued an executive order making the changes he wanted on his own.
Imagine what a maverick fighting a Democrat-controlled Congress would do on his own.