Helen Thomas, a Washington journalist whose career has spanned nine presidential administrations, has joined a cavalcade of prominent Americans with serious doubts about President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative.
Thomas, a Hearst Newspapers columnist often referred to as the "Dean of the White House Press Corps," grilled Bush about his plan to aid churches during the president's first press conference Feb. 22. The following transcript was released by the White House.
Thomas: Mr. President, why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and state? And you know that the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter. I mean, the very fact that our country has stood in good stead by having the separation why do you break it down?
Bush: Helen, I strongly respect the separation of church and state.
Thomas: Well, you wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did.
Bush: I didn't get to finish my answer, in all due respect. I believe that so long as there's a secular alternative available, we ought to allow individuals who are helping to be able to choose a program that may be run by a faith-based program or will be run by a faith-based program.
I understand full well that some of the most compassionate missions of help and aid come out of faith-based programs. And I strongly support the faith-based initiative that we're proposing, because I don't believe it violates the line between the separation of church and state, and I believe it's going to make America a better place.
Thomas: Well, you are a secular official.
Bush: I agree, I am a secular official.
Thomas: And not a missionary.