POLITICS

George W. Bush: Freedom To Worship Or Not 'Is Not Your Government's Choice'

05/16/2015 04:51 pm ET | Updated May 16, 2015

Former President George W. Bush defended religious freedom during his commencement address at Southern Methodist University Saturday-- his first commencement address since leaving office in 2009.

"You can be hopeful because there is a loving God. Whether you agree with that statement or not is your choice. It is not your government's choice," Bush said to applause. "It is essential to this nation's future that we remember that the freedom to worship who we want and how we want, or not worship at all, is a core belief of our founding."

Bush's speech at the school that houses his presidential library and where his wife, Laura Bush, is a trustee, comes as his brother Jeb is on the verge of a likely White House run. Jeb, the former Florida governor, faced difficult questions over his brother's invasion of Iraq this week, including one from a college student who claimed that George W. Bush was responsible for the rise of the Islamic State.

In his speech Saturday, the 43rd president said he was optimistic about the future.

“Some say America’s best days are behind us,” he said. “I say, given our strengths — one of which is a bright new generation like you — these are not dark days, these are great days.”

Bush, who graduated from Yale with a C+ average, also made fun of his mediocre academic record, telling graduates that they shouldn't let grades limit them.

"Those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done," he said. "And as I like to tell the C students: you too can be president."

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