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Published: Monday, 10/17/2005

Preaching to the choir

President Bush's statement that White House officials are carrying out an outreach campaign to reassure his conservative supporters about Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers' religious beliefs is astonishing and, quite possibly, inconsistent with the First Amendment's stricture on separation of church and state.

"White House officials" in normal usage certainly means U.S. civil servants, whose salaries are paid by the American taxpayer. The idea of people on the U.S. government payroll going out to or telephoning conservatives to explain what Ms. Miers' religious views are - in other words, to tell them not to oppose her because her church affiliation and beliefs make her almost certainly anti-choice on abortion - is truly troublesome.

If that isn't a clear case of the U.S. government promoting particular religious beliefs, it is hard to see what would fall into that category.

Let us imagine for a moment that President John F. Kennedy had lived, had sought a second term, and had faced questions about his Catholicism as he did in the 1960 campaign.

Would he then have sent White House officials out to explain to any Catholics who might have had reservations about him - or to Protestants, Jews, and people of other faiths - that they shouldn't be worried about his religious convictions?

One also has to wonder which White House officials are carrying the word on Ms. Miers. Unless the White House has become entirely a bed of Protestant fundamentalists, it must mean that mainstream Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish officials have been asked to reach out to conservatives to tell them the good news about Ms. Miers' faith.

Mr. Bush's religious outreach program on Ms. Miers' behalf is inappropriate and should stop immediately.

Otherwise, it will be time for someone to file suit to stop this misuse of supposedly religiously neutral U.S. government officials.

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