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From the Obama peroration:

What I believe is that all of us come to the public square with our own values and our ideals and our ethics, what we believe. And people of religious faith have the same right to come to that public square with values and ideals that are rooted in their faith. And they have the right to describe them in religious terms, which has been part of our history. As I said in some of my writings, imagine Dr. King, you know, going up before, in front of the Lincoln Memorial and having to scrub all his religious references, or Abraham Lincoln in the Second Inaugural not being able to refer to God. What religious language can often do is allow us to get outside of ourselves and mobilize around a common good. On the other hand, what those of us of religious faith have to do when we’re in the public square is to translate our language into a universal language that can appeal to everybody. And both Lincoln and King did this and every great leader did it, because we are not just a Christian nation. We are a Jewish nation; we are a Buddhist nation; we are a Muslim nation; Hindu nation; and we are a nation of atheists and nonbelievers. And it is important for us not to try to kill the debate by saying, “Well, God tells me I’m right, and so I’m not going to listen to you.” Rather, we’ve got to translate whatever it is that we believe into a language that allows for argument, allows for debate, and also allows that we may be wrong.

  • Kevin Healey

    What strikes me about these comments (and similar comments in his speech from 2006) is how similar his position is to that of Habermas. In a recent essay, “Religion in the Public Sphere,” for example, Habermas also talks about the need for religious citizens to “translate” their perspective once they decide to enter politics. Obama’s perspective on the matter of religion in the public sphere is an interesting combination of Habermas and Reinhold Niebuhr. I think he’s right on the money.