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At fundraiser, Bush stresses faith, freedom

BILLINGS – Former President George W. Bush spoke about his religious faith at a fundraiser Friday night in Billings for a nonprofit Christian ministry called Provision International and said he’s no longer in politics and doesn’t want to be.

“You’re either in it or you’re out of it,” he said. “I’m trying to get out of the swamp.”

He also said he was staying out of the partisan debate leading up to this year’s presidential election: “Frankly, there are plenty of critics out there, and one of them won’t be me.”

Organizers said about 1,200 people attended the fundraiser with most paying $200, and those who donated $1,000 got a private reception and photo with the former president, the Billings Gazette reported.

Bush drew applause often when he talked about his faith and his belief in freedom. Religion, he said, is the most important freedom.

“The government should never say you don’t have the right to worship the way you want to worship,” Bush said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, vegan, doesn’t matter.”

He said he and his wife, Laura, have been working to support women in the Middle East. He said he believes women will lead the democratic movement in the region.

Bush cited the Dalai Lama, Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II as religious leaders who influenced him. But he also talked about less well-known people he met while in office, noting among them a woman in a region of Africa stricken with AIDS, who had nothing but told him, “God is good.”

“I tell people, anyone from the most blessed country in the world ought to be yelling ‘God is good’ all the time,” Bush said.

The former president didn’t discuss the national debt, $10.62 trillion when he left office at the start of the economic collapse and now about $15 trillion.

He did, however, reaffirm his position that tax cuts, particularly for those with the capital to invest in business development, are the best way to achieve economic growth.

Provision International’s website said money raised at Friday’s banquet will go to poverty-related projects in Africa, Central America, Europe and the U.S. Some of the projects, the group said, include a mobile shower facility for homeless teens in the U.S. and a home for trafficked women in Moldova in eastern Europe.