By: Alan M. Dershowitz  | 

Governor Bush’s Jesus Day Divides Americans by Religion (Vol. 66, Issue 1)

In an act of incredible religious insensitivity, Governor George W. Bush of Texas, the Republican nominee for president, declared June 10 to be Jesus day. In his official declaration, Bush stated that throughout the world, people of all religions recognize Jesus Christ as an example of love, compassion, sacrifice, and service. Perhaps that is true among Bush's narrow band of acquaintances, but no Jew, Buddhist, Shintoist, agnostic, or atheist recognizes Jesus as Christ, The word Christ means Messiah. Jesus is not the Messiah for believing Jews, and the very concept of Messiah is alien to a large number of Texans and other Americans.

Those who persuaded Governor Bush to proclaim June 10 as Jesus Day recognized that the celebration would be limited only to Christians: Organizers are calling Christians to put aside politics and traditional labels of liberal and conservative to come together for a day of celebration and community service. What about the rest of us? Well, we are welcome to join in a march for Jesus uniting the entire city in worship and celebration. They also call for the day to spark a revolution of compassionate Christianity. If that sounds a bit like Bush’s campaign slogan of compassionate conservatism, it is surely no coincidence. George W. Bush is running for president as a Christian candidate, just as he ran for governor of Texas. His favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ, and he believes that non-Christians cannot get into heaven. These views are his business, but when he makes them the subject of an official state proclamation, it becomes not only un-American; it is unconstitutional. Bush established Christianity as the official religion of Texas for June 10, Promoters of Jesus Day hope that Jesus Day will not simply be a one-day phenomenon, but a way of life. They want to create a day on earth as it is in heaven presumably with no non-Christians allowed! Governor Bush urged all Texans to follow Christ’s message. If that is not the establishment of a particular religion, it is hard to imagine what would be. 

Bush’s defenders will surely point out that he has also declared official days to commemorate other people, organizations, and commodities. Texas probably celebrates Pickle Day, Secretaries Day, and other innocuous events. But Bush would be the first to proclaim that Jesus Christ is different. Can you imagine George Bush declaring Secular Humanist Day, or Atheists Day, or Farrakhan Day, or Satmar Rabbi Day?

The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations that espouse the separation of Church and State, dropped the ball on this one. Although Jesus Day received considerable attention by Christians, on Christian websites, and in some newspapers, it did not receive the criticism it deserves. Establishment of religion is a slippery slope. George Bush should not be let off the hook for his establishment of Jesus Christ as the Texas personification of compassionate Christianity. If he is not criticized for his unconstitutional action in Texas, he will surely bring the same religious insensitivity to the national scene if he is elected president. I urge all Americans who care deeply about our constitutional system, our heritage of pluralism, and keeping the promise of George Washington that we will no longer speak of mere toleration of some religions by others, to protest this act of religious bigotry. I urge the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge this unconsttutional declaration in court, and I urge people of different faiths as well as those of no religious faith, to engage in acts of charity and compassion, not in the name of George Bush's particular religion, but in the name of your own religious or other heritage. Non-Christians must not accept the status of seond-class citizens in this country whose Constitution forbids religious tests, Those of us who reject Jesus as the Messiah aré every bit as good Americans as those who accept him. Let nobody try to tell us otherwise.

The author is a professor of law at Harvard University.