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Words of Wisdom From the Presidential Pulpit - February 3, 2003

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

The flags went to half-mast. A stunned nation looked once again for some reassuring words from the president.

He spoke using the Scriptures, and the language of faith.

"In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope," the president said. "In the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.'"

Less than a week had passed since the president sought God's guidance in the war on terror, the situation with Iraq and the difficulties here at home. But because of the unforeseen calamity in the skies over his home state of Texas, Bush had to become the comforter in chief again.

The words he spoke were reminiscent of those of Ronald Reagan, when a similar nightmare occurred in 1986. Reagan said, "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.'"

The moving language came from a poem, "High Flight," written by John Gillespie Magee Jr., an American airman killed in World War II.

Bush went even further into the spiritual realm, when he acknowledged the source of all freedom saying, "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the Shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home."

Whether you agree or disagree with the man's politics, it is clear that this president is a legitimate person of faith. His life bears the fruit of a conversion.

When the president acts as a religious leader, it illustrates the importance of this kind of expression as one of the types of speech that should be guarded from government restriction.

It is no mere happenstance that when disaster strikes, human beings seek comfort in the words, symbols and institutions of faith. The powerful inclination validates a truth about the American experiment ­ that faith and freedom are inextricably bound together.

Our forefathers knew this. They expressed the precept often. But most importantly, they placed it directly into our founding documents.

It is here where we discover that the very same wellspring of comfort in times of trouble is also the acknowledged origin of our rights and source of all our freedom.

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Copyright © 2003
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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