Atheists can be patriots, President George W. Bush has told a group of conservative religion writers.
"My job is to make sure that, as president, people understand that in this country you can worship any way you choose," he said. "And I'll take that a step further. You can be a patriot if you don't believe in the Almighty. You can honor your country and be as patriotic as your neighbor."
That topic was one of several that came up during Bush's wide-ranging interview with nine staff members of conservative Protestant and Roman Catholic publications.
"At home, the job of a president is to help cultures change," Bush said. "The culture needs to be changed. I call it, so people can understand what I'm talking about, changing the culture from one that says, 'If it feels good, do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else,' to a culture in which each of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make in life.
"I call it the responsibility era.... This is one of the reasons I got into politics in the first place," he continued. "Governments cannot change culture alone. I want you to know I understand that. But I can be a voice of cultural change."
Bush said his "faith-based" initiative is part of the effort to change the culture because it raises "an army of compassion" to deal with problems like alcoholism. One of the changes he wants to make, Bush said, is an understanding that religious groups can take tax money without watering down their religious nature.
Another goal, Bush said, is to promote cultural change in a way that encourages people to see the importance of "taking care of your bodies to the point where we can promote a culture of life." He said this opposition to abortion was crafted in part by the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a conservative Catholic priest and critic of church-state separation.
In the interview, portions of which were posted online at the website of Christianity Today, Bush also reaffirmed his support for a constitutional amendment banning marriage rights for same-sex couples and said he has no regrets about the Iraq war.
Those present for the interview were Christianity Today news writer Sheryl Blunt, Crisis Magazine editor Deal Hudson, Good News publisher James V. Heidinger II, Touchstone editor James Kushiner, Lutheran Witness and Reporter editor David L. Mahsman, First Things editor Richard John Neuhaus, World magazine editor Marvin Olasky, Catholic writer Russell Shaw and Strang Communications founder Stephen Strang.