Methodists battle George W. Bush over SMU Library & 'Freedom Institute'
By Bill Berkowitz
Online Journal Guest Writer
Oct 11, 2007, 00:39
President Bush may think it's a done deal, and First Lady
Laura may be measuring for drapes. An architect has been chosen, and the
project is proceeding to raise $500 million. And Karl Rove, who actually may be
running the entire show, is also likely lining up a host of conservative
think-tankers. Much of the media that covered the story only a few months ago
appear to have lost interest. However, before the George W. Bush Library, with
its attached public policy institute, are built at Southern Methodist
University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, they must overcome rising objections within
the nationwide United Methodist community.
On September 24, the Dallas Morning News reported,
"Officially, no decision has been made on where the presidential library
will be located, but SMU has long been considered the prohibitive favorite. An
architectural firm was chosen last month to design the project."
Earlier in the month, the Reverend Andrew J. Weaver, an
ordained United Methodist minister and research psychologist living in New York
City (who also writes for Media
Transparency), and one of the organizers of the campaign to keep the Bush
Library off the SMU campus, sent an "Open Letter" to the more than
10,000 signers of a petition urging them to keep working to make SMU a
Final vote on Bush Library yet to come, say opponents
On September 25, opponents of the Bush Library and think
tank issued a press release calling on the United Methodist Church "to
deny approval to Southern Methodist University to host the Bush complex."
According to the press release, the South Central
Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church will meet in Dallas
from July 15-19, 2008, and will vote whether to allow the Bush Library to be
built on campus. United Methodist opponents of the Bush complex will be asking
the 290 elected delegates -- representing the 1.83 million United Methodists
living in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas,
and Louisiana -- to the Conference "to vote against this request."
Bishop Joe A. Wilson of Georgetown, Texas, said that although
"the 21 member Mission Council approved by a vote of 10-4 the use of the
SMU property for the Library and partisan Policy Institute, this decision must
be ratified by the larger Jurisdictional Conference . . ." Jurisdiction
rules state that "all actions taken by the Council shall be valid and in
full effect. . . . until the next regular session of The Conference."
Wilson pointed out that "plac[ing] a partisan policy Think Tank, with no
oversight by the church and university, on the grounds of a United Methodist
Institution, is an issue the Jurisdictional Conference must not take
"The placement of the George W. Bush Library and the
establishment of an Institute to promote the policies of this president at
Southern Methodist University would be a tragedy," said Bishop William
Boyd Grove of Charlestown, West Virginia. "The policies of the Bush
administration are in direct conflict with the Social Principles of the United
Methodist Church on issues of war and peace, civil liberties and human rights,
care for the environment, and health care. SMU is a university of the church
and is home to one of our outstanding theological seminaries. Its United
Methodist identity and its moral authority would be seriously compromised were
it to be identified with the policies of George W. Bush in this way."
Bishop Kenneth W. Hicks of Little Rock, Arkansas, pointed
out that in February of this year, a petition drive was launched by bishops,
clergy and laity of the United Methodist Church that "call[ed] for the SMU
trustees and the UMC to reject the Bush project. That petition now has the
signatures of 15 UMC bishops and more than 10,800 Christians (mostly United
Methodists) and persons of conscience. We are very much encouraged by the
national and international response that we have garnered."
Executive Order 13233
Opponents are "question[ing] the educational value of
the Bush complex" given that earlier in his administration Bush issued
Executive Order 13233, "which," the press release notes,
"provides former Presidents with virtually unlimited powers to deny or
grant access to documents generated under their administrations." The
executive order extends these powers to a president's heirs.
Recently, SB 866, the Presidential Records Act Amendments of
2007, a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, which would rescind
Bush's Executive Order 13233, was assigned a number, made its way to the Senate
floor and has since been stalled by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning.
"Professors within the history department at Southern
Methodist University, the future home of the George W. Bush Presidential
Library, may not all agree on the benefits or legitimacy of the library, museum
and institute. However, they unanimously agree about SB 866 and the need to
rescind the presidential order," Laray Polkfor recently wrote in the Dallas
Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of London, Ohio, observed that
"last spring the Faculty Senate and the history faculty at SMU issued
statements criticizing the Executive Order as incompatible with the goals of
providing public and scholarly access to federal documents. It is a great
concern when a large number of the faculty at a United Methodist university
question the educational value of a project."
Bishop Susan M. Morrison of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware,
pointed out that while she "respect[s] the office of the presidency,
presidential libraries are created, partly, to celebrate the legacies of
particular presidents [and] . . . Bush's leadership has been so problematic and
contrary to much of our Social Principles, it does not seem appropriate to
place this library in the midst of one of our celebrated educational
"It's not a matter of censorship, but there's a lot of
resentment that this institute will be run without any oversight by the
university," the Rev. Weaver, who is spearheading the drive, told the Dallas
The newspaper also reported, "An SMU official said that
while the university respected the opinions of the opponents, 'We believe we
have the approval from the Methodist church we needed to move forward.'"
Brad Cheves, SMU vice president of development and external
affairs, appeared to not be concerned over how much oversight the university
has over the policy institute. "This seems to be a repeat of the views
that were expressed last spring and rejected," he said.
Enter Karl Rove
After his November 2004 victory, Bush and Karl Rove attended
the opening ceremonies for the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock,
Arkansas. Sidney Blumenthal, writing for the Guardian (UK) noted that
"offstage, beforehand, Rove and Bush had had their library tours.
According to two eyewitnesses, Rove had shown keen interest in everything he
saw, and asked questions, including about costs, obviously thinking about a future
George W. Bush library and legacy."
In early September, Paul Bedard wrote in his U.S. News
& World Report "Washington Whispers" column that Rove
"is expected . . . to take charge of . . . the design, fundraising, and
planning for what insiders are calling a copy of the conservative Hoover
Institution at Stanford University." Rove, who has "long played a key
role" in the project, will not "be the front man . . . instead
focusing on putting the president's stamp on the facility."
New York's Robert A. M. Stern Architects was selected by
Bush and his wife to design the facility. SMU's student newspaper, The
Daily Campus, reported in late
August that Stern, who is also dean of Yale University's School of
Architecture, met with the Bushes August 23 at their ranch in Crawford, Texas,
after which they decided to choose his firm over two other finalists.
According to the newspaper, "Stern's firm was selected
with the help of a five-member committee that evaluated different architecture
firms for the project. That committee included Laura Bush, Roland Betts, a
partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers; Deedie Rose, whose husband Rusty was
also a partner in the Texas Rangers, Witold Rybczynski, who Bush appointed in
2004 as a member of the Commission of Fine Arts; and Marvin Bush, the
In an email, the Rev. Weaver pointed out, "The fact
that the press is reporting that Rove will lead the effort to design and plan
the freedom institute has increased the concern about and sentiment against the
project among many in the church. Three additional bishops signed the petition
this week. I believe we have the stronger arguments on our side and can win the
debate in the church. And, if Bush bombs Iran, I doubt he will ever get an inch
of church land to put anything on."
Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement and a frequent
writer for Media Transparency.
He documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of
the American Right.
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