George W. Bush “Jesus Day” Declaration Cause for Concern Among Voters (Vol. 66, Issue 1)
investigative reporters discovered earlier this summer that Republican candidate George W. Bush had an official declaration earlier this year proclaiming June 10, 2000 as “Jesus Day” in the state of Texas. While a similar initiative, undertaken in California in 1997, was challenged in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union, the recent Bush proclamation, which called upon Texans to “follow Christ’s message of love and service in thought and deed,” went relatively unnoticed.
Jesus Day is a movement that organizes a nationally observed day in which “millions of people get together to demonstrate their faith in practical ways [and] come out to find dozens of ways to reach out to the community in Christ's name.” Governor Bush’s official pronouncement of support for this group is still displayed prominently on the Texas Government website. Voters have expressed sincere concern over Bush’s connections with the Christian Right and his apparent disregard for Church-State separation.
“I find it disturbing that a presidential candidate would exhort citizens to adhere to, or follow indirectly any religious denomination's doctrine,” said Jonathan Reich, a Columbia University student who first found out about Bush’s declaration after The Commentator posted the piece on their website in early August.
David Wallach, a Yeshiva University Senior from Palo Alto, California, adopted a similar position. “My understanding of Jesus Day was an effort to promote community causes - care for the poor, food for the hungry, etc. - all noble deeds, irrespective of the religion involved,” said Wallach. “However, I feel that by declaring that ‘all Texans answer the call to follow Christ’s message,’ Governor Bush is crossing a constitutional line and granting preferential treatment to a specific religion.”
Alan M. Dershowitz, Professor of law at Harvard University concurred with these assessments during an exclusive Commentator interview. “George W. Bush does not understand the principles of the First Amendment,” raged Dershowitz. “It is clearly unconstitutional for a standing Governor to commemorate Christianity or any other religion. He wouldn't call for a Buddha Day or a National Lubavitcher Rebbe Day, so how can he single out Christianity for a special day in Texas?”
The constitutionality of the Texas Government's statement was questioned in a different forum in 1997, when the ACLU and two residents of Redlands, CA sued the city for its proclamation of a “March for Jesus.” US District Judge Edward Rafeedie ruled that the proclamation “endorsed Christianity,” and thus constituted “a violation of the separation of church and state clause.” After Rafeedie issued a restraining order barring city endorsement of the march, the city conceded, withdrawing its support of the event. In contrast to the ACLU’s active role in fighting the California declaration, the organization took no legal action following the recent Texas one. The ACLU declined to return Commentator phone calls regarding this matter. Sources speculated that the ACLU’s reticence on this matter stemmed from its reluctance to take on high profile issues so close to a national election.
Aside from the constitutional issues raised by the proclamation, political ones have surfaced as well, particularly in light of the Republican candidate's desire to align himself with the centrist wing of the American electorate. The declaration could serve to undermine this image among wavering moderate Republicans and Democrats.
Some voters, however, maintained that they were not surprised by the announcement. “It's consistent with the image I perceived them to have all along,” said Eli Gurock, a Yeshiva alumnus from New Jersey, “a Southern Christian Conservative image.” Ultimately, while most interviewees seemed resigned to accept Governor Bush's religious activities, some did counsel action. “It might not be a bad idea to sue Texas, even ex post facto, since it would be a precedent-setting case which would help prevent such governmentally sanctioned religious days from occurring in the future,” said Wallach. “I also feel that an official apology from the Governor to all of his constituents, as well as possible future voters, would be a nice sentiment.”
Editor's Note: While this article was under preparation, the website containing Governor Bush's official declaration inexplicably went down. A copy of this website, however, is available through Google’s cache. An Operator at the Governor's office in Texas told a Commentator reporter that the website had been taken down for “maintenance.” Copies of the proclamation can be obtained by calling the Governor's Office at: (512) 463-2000.
This story and accompanying op-ed were originally released on the Commentator Website on August 3, 2000. Subsequent stories appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek and other national media. The article has been modified for print.