In last night's State of the Union address, President Bush focused the spotlight on one family affected by the war in Iraq: the family of Dan Clay, killed in Falluja in December, 2005. As anticipated, Bush used his speech to make the case for continuing the war in Iraq, arguing that "a sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison," and that "we must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in its vital mission."

President Bush then invoked the name of Daniel Clay.

"Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay was killed last month fighting the enemy in Falluja," Bush said. "He left behind a letter to his family, but his words could just as well be addressed to every American. Here is what Dan wrote: 'I know what honor is. It has been an honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to.... Never falter! Don't hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting.'"

For those watching the speech on television, a shot of Dan Clay's family sitting in the audience flashed across the screen. Then Dan Clay's picture came up alongside Bush's image, in profile, smiling in uniform.

Dan Clay and his family present a stark contrast to Cindy Sheehan, who also lost a son in Iraq. Sheehan famously sought a meeting with President Bush after her son Casey was killed in Sadr City, camping outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, TX, and protesting at the White House.

Bud Clay is Dan Clay's father, and his response to the death of his son was quite different from Sheehan's. After his son was killed, Bud Clay wrote a letter to President Bush, which reads in part:

"Dan was a Christian--he knew Jesus as Lord and Savior--so we know where he is. In his final letter (one left with me for the family--to be read in case of his death) he says "if you are reading this, it means my race is over." He's home now--his and our real home. I am writing to you--to tell you how proud and thankful we (his parents and family) are of you and what you are trying to do to protect us all."

Dan Clay's last letter home, mentioned by his father, is the letter Bush quoted in his speech. Dan Clay starts off by writing, "This letter being read means that I have been deemed worthy of being with Christ. … This is not a bad thing. It is what we hope for. The secret is out. He lives and His promises are real! It is not faith that supports this .... but fact and I now am a part of the promise. Here is notice! Wake up! All that we hope for is Real. Not a hope. But Real."

As Bush quoted in his address, Dan Clay goes on to say that "it has been an Honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to." But then the Commander-in-Chief skipped over the next two sentences, which read as follows: "This is as close to Christ-like I can be. That emulation is where all honor lies."

The letter closes with an exhortation: "Spread the word… Christ lives and he is Real!"

The letters from Dan and Bud Clay are a far cry from the letters Cindy Sheehan has written to President Bush. Her now-famous open letter includes these lines:

"We are going to do everything in our power to have you impeached for misleading the American people into a disastrous war and for mis-using and abusing your power as Commander-in-Chief. We are going to scream until our last breath to bring the rest of our babies home from this quagmire of a war that you have gotten our country into."
As it happens, Sheehan was also in attendance at the State of the Union last night, as a guest of Representative Lynn Woolsey (Dem, CA). Only rather than showing up on the TV cameras, as the Clay family did, Sheehan was arrested before the start of the address, apparently for wearing a T-shirt with an anti-Bush slogan.

Bush has famously refused to meet with Cindy Sheehan, who has been credited with reinvigorating the movement to end the war.

The Clays' letters are on a website under a discussion titled, "Are there any evangelical Christians out there?", at a site called Tech Support Guy. They were reposted at by "Deb," one of the editors at the site, who appears to be Deb Conrad of Lebanon OR, mother of Lance Corporal Shane Conrad. In her post on the Clay letters, Deb wrote "I would love to see this father, who understands the true meaning of honor and who continues to support his son, given the same media attention given to Cindy Sheehan."

Her wish has been granted. But what does it mean that the one soldier Bush chooses to highlight – one of the 2,243 American soldiers killed in the war in Iraq – apparently has strong ties to the evangelical community, and was fighting for his god at least as much as his country? In promoting Dan Clay and his family to the nation and the world, Bush has reinforced the dangerous perception that the war on Iraq is war not for Iraqi freedom, not even for oil, but is a war between Christianity and Islam.

The idea that Bush is conducting veiled outreach to his Christian base is nothing new – historian Bruce Lincoln argues that there have been coded Christian references in Bush's speeches for years, including subtle references to a holy war. And some not so subtle references - on September 16, 2001, Bush said America was embarking upon a "crusade" against terrorism, a comment the White House later insisted was unscripted. Dan Clay was clearly chosen carefully for mention in the State of the Union, and his religious ties and beliefs are only barely under the surface. Bush has sent a message not just to Christians in America but to the Muslim world as well – the soldiers he celebrates are the holy warriors.