Bush describes Nation of Islam as based on love your neighbor

WASHINGTON — While many regard the Nation of Islam as anti-Semitic, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush recently had some kind words for the group, led by Louis Farrakhan.

When asked Jan. 30 by the Fox network's Tony Snow if the Nation of Islam is a faith-based organization, Bush replied, "I think it is. I think it's based upon some universal principles," such as "love your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself." Those in the group who accept that notion, said Bush, have their hearts "set right to help a neighbor in need."

Snow asked the question in context of the issue of charitable choice, a proposal to provide public funding to faith-based organizations to run programs such as homeless shelters or drug treatment. The idea is supported by all the presidential candidates.

Asked by Snow if his response about the Nation of Islam meant that he would not mind having taxpayer money go to the group, Bush said, "I don't like taxpayer money to support any religion.

"What I like is taxpayers' money to support people who are seeking some kind of help, people that are trying to find some better answer to their lives. I don't believe government ought to fund religion. I believe government can and should fund the people who are trying to help — and programs that help change people's lives."

Some Jewish Democrats criticized Bush's comments on the Nation of Islam, questioning his characterization of the group and attacking his "expansive view of government funding of religious organizations" to include the Nation of Islam.

"If the principles that he's speaking about are hatred, anti-Semitism and fear and loathing of others, then he is right," said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "But if he means anything else, he clearly does not understand the first thing about the Nation of Islam."

Bush has pledged to funnel $8 billion in public funds into faith-based organizations and set up an office at the White House to deal with the issue.

Bush has not spoken about maintaining safeguards on the church-state divide, saying religion is fundamental to the success of the programs.

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan would not specifically address Bush's comments or view of the Nation of Islam, but did say the governor has "laid out a detailed plan to reach out to faith-based groups, churches, synagogues and charities to help those in need." He added later, "There is no place for racism or anti-Semitism anywhere.