President Obama used the National Prayer Day breakfast this morning to tout the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for all religions.
The President said, “Our faith teaches us that in the face of suffering, we can’t stand idly by and that we must be that Good Samaritan. In Isaiah, we’re told “to do right. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” The Torah commands: “Know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Koran instructs: “Stand out firmly for justice.” So history shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people — including the freedom of religion — are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful. Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism. So freedom of religion matters to our national security.”
“So promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. And I’m proud that no nation on Earth does more to stand up for the freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America.”
The President gave a few examples of countries we deal with who have a ways to go on this front, and explained how his administration tries to compel them toward justice for all. One of the countries he mentioned was China, “When I meet with Chinese leaders — and we do a lot of business with the Chinese, and that relationship is extraordinarily important not just to our two countries but to the world — but I stress that realizing China’s potential rests on upholding universal rights, including for Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims.”
“More broadly, I’ve made the case that no society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities, whether they’re Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, or Baha’i in Iran, or Coptic Christians in Egypt. And in Syria, it means ensuring a place for all people — Alawites and Sunni, Shia and Christian.”
Obama noted that his administration will be focusing on working with religious and faith leaders as part of a broader diplomatic approach to foreign policy, “And we’re moving ahead with our new strategy to partner more closely with religious leaders and faith communities as we carry out our foreign policy. So around the world we’re elevating our engagement with faith leaders and making it a regular part of our diplomacy.”
The President used the moment to press for human rights, “Let’s do more together to advance human rights, including religious freedom. Let’s do more to promote the development that Raj describes — from ending extreme poverty to saving lives, from HIV/AIDS to combating climate change so that we can preserve God’s incredible creation. On all these issues, faith leaders and faith organizations here in the United States and around the world are incredible partners, and we’re grateful to them.”
And summing up the vast difference in his foreign policy and the Republican Party’s foreign policy (and even some Democrats), the President said, “And in contrast to those who wield religion to divide us, let’s do more to nurture the dialogue between faiths that can break cycles of conflict and build true peace, including in the Holy Land.”
President Obama has a talent at elevating the discussion and reaching for the best in people. It doesn’t seem to work here at home very well, where he has a party operating as an enemy combatant on a suicide mission within our own borders, but for those who value the path to peace and therefor understand that it comes as a product of justice, Obama’s lofty goals are aspirational and inspiring.
Obama honors one of the foundations of our freedom – freedom of and from religion – by working with faith leaders around the world to come together for the same purpose — a more peaceful planet. Extremism is the opposite of peace. Moderation and temperance are called for, and President Obama has both in abundance.
This President understands diplomacy as a way to not only avoid war but build a bridge toward peace. Obama’s calm demeanor and cool exterior have been a welcome respite from the knee-jerk, wannabe cowboys of the right. While his words will no doubt rile up the Right, the President’s understanding of the values of his faith are much more in line with what most Americans value than the vengeful Old Testament version of God’s alleged punishment offered by the GOP.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.