Bush (Temporarily) Flip-Flops on Religion in Politics

Watch out Pope Francis, because Jeb Bush says you’re overstepping your bounds. After a leaked copy of Pope Francis’ encyclical revealed the pontiff’s intention of warning citizens about global warming and calling for governments to reduce their use of fossil fuels, Bush was quick to criticize.

“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush said. “I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issues before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

Setting aside that maybe the political realm should yield to scientists on questions involving science, Bush’s statement is startling in light of his own long history of dragging his faith into politics — and sometimes making a mess in the process.

Just two months ago, in an interview with Focus on the Family, an evangelical social welfare group, Bush was asked how the nation could regain moral equilibrium on the right to life issue.

“The most vulnerable in our society need to be protected,” he said. “They need to have legal rights. And as a society, we need to recognize their value and their worth.” He was speaking about both fetuses and those who engage in assisted suicide. “And so, as governor, informed by a deeply held belief that was informed by my faith, I tried to persuade people first.”

Bush then went on to boast about all of the faith-informed, pro-life measures he took as governor. “We supported, and ruled unconstitutional for the first time, parental consent and then we now have parental notification. We banned partial birth abortions. We created many more options for adoption out of foster care and in general. We were the only state, I believe, to have funded with state monies crisis pregnancy centers,” he said. “It was a godsend for these crisis pregnancy centers and a lot of babies’ lives were saved and a lot of families got the joy of being able to bring a child up in their home.”

Bush was wrong about those “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) — Florida is one of at least 11 states that fund them — which is too bad, because CPCs have long been accused of peddling medically inaccurate information to steer women away from abortion. Their propaganda strategies include using shocking photos and films and telling outright lies about the dangers of abortion, such as claiming that abortion may lead to breast cancer.

Also consider Terri Schiavo, whose life Bush fought to extend even though she was in a vegetative state for years. When a court approved Terri’s legal guardian and husband, Michael Schiavo, to have her feeding tube removed in 2003, Bush stepped in, pushing “Terri’s Law” through the Florida legislature. When that law was overturned, Bush lobbied congress to give Terri’s parents the right to appeal in a federal court. When that appeal was denied, Bush appealed for the Department of Children and Families to take custody of Schiavo to keep her alive. That didn’t work either, and Terri Schiavo was eventually allowed to pass away in 2005.

Earlier this year, Bush said of the debacle, “It’s appropriate for people to err on the side of life. I’m completely comfortable with it.”

Bloomberg reported that Bush’s allies were privately “thrilled” about recently published stories on the Schiavo case, because they showed “how the hard-charging Bush combined policy with his religious and moral beliefs to nearly lead the state into a constitutional crisis.”

While criticizing the Pope may not have been the smartest move for someone aiming to secure the evangelical vote, it must have scored him some points with both the conservative electorate, who’s not ready to believe in man-made climate change, and Bush’s (wealthy) friends in the fossil fuel industry. After all, Big Coal and Company will be the ones that are going to write checks for his campaign, not the Pope.

—Jimmy Chin

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