At Reason, A. Barton Hinkle on the different ways the media reacts to religious issues under different presidents:
George W. Bush had one small office devoted to faith-based initiatives, and was savaged for it. Barack Obama, on the other hand, says faith drives much of his domestic agenda—and no one even blinks.
We are in “the fourth year of the ministry of George W. Bush,” cracked novelist Philip Roth in 2004. By then, several million gallons of ink already had been spilled warning that Bush’s “faith-based presidency” was “nudging the church-state line” (The New York Times) and was “turning the U.S. into a religious state” (Village Voice) and was “arrogant” and “troubling” (St. Petersburg Times) and was “pandering to Christian zealots” (Salon) and “imposing its values on the rest of us” (too many to name).
Obama has been just as overtly religious as Bush — “We worship an awesome God in the blue states,” he said in his 2004 keynoter at the Democratic National Convention — and even more aggressive about injecting faith into politics. In 2006, he praised a religious “Covenant for a New America.” In a 2008 speech in Ohio, he said religious faith could be “the foundation of a new project of American renewal” and insisted that “secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.” He has kept Bush’s office of faith-based initiatives. In fact, “Obama’s faith-based office has given religious figures a bigger role in influencing White House decisions,” reported USNews in 2009.
At the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday, the president began by noting that he prays every morning, and then devoted the rest of his speech to explaining the manifold ways in which his faith guides his policies. “I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper,” he said. That somnolent silence you hear is the guardians of church-state separation taking a nap.
Frankly, it still boggles my mind that there’s such a thing as a “National Prayer Breakfast” outside of the annual general meetings of churches.