Beliefs Politics

Obama denounces religious test for refugees: ‘That’s not who we are’

President Barack Obama holds a news conference with reporters at the end of the G20 summit at the Kaya Palazzo Resort in Antalya, Turkey, November 16, 2015. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

(RNS) In some of his strongest remarks on the subject to date, President Obama on Monday (Nov. 16) denounced calls for a religious test for refugees and immigrants, saying: “That’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are.”

The president made his remarks at a press conference Monday (Nov. 16) in Antalya, Turkey, at the conclusion of the Group of 20 meeting. He met there with other world leaders to discuss economic issues, but the attacks Friday in Paris quickly took precedence. At least 129 people were killed in coordinated attacks by the Islamic State group.

Some Republicans have suggested a religious or nationality test for Syrian and other Middle East refugees. A Syrian passport, stamped by authorities in Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia, was found near the body of one of the attackers, though authorities have yet to determine if it is authentic, or if it belonged to a refugee.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said over the weekend that the U.S. should only accept Christian refugees because they bring “no meaningful risk of committing acts of terror.” Jeb Bush, speaking on CNN on Sunday, said refugee efforts should be centered “on the Christians being slaughtered.”

READ: Jesus would welcome Syrian refugees

“When I hear folks say that,” the president said, “when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful.”

Cruz’s father fled revolutionary Cuba in 1957.

Despite a recent study showing that non-Muslim extremists have committed twice as many acts of terror in the U.S. as Muslim extremists, governors in a number of states said they would not welcome Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. The U.S. has said it plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016.

President Barack Obama holds a news conference with reporters at the end of the G20 summit at the Kaya Palazzo Resort in Antalya, Turkey, November 16, 2015. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Barack Obama holds a news conference with reporters at the end of the G-20 summit at the Kaya Palazzo Resort in Antalya, Turkey, on Monday (Nov. 16, 2015). Photo courtesy REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The president also strongly restated his — and his predecessor’s — belief that a war against ISIS is not a war against Islam.

“I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear that this is not a war on Islam,” Obama said. “And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that is not who we are. On this they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It’s our better impulse.”

Republicans were not impressed with the president’s remarks. “With his excuse-laden and defensive press conference, President Obama removed any and all doubt that he lacks the resolve or a strategy to defeat and destroy ISIS,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Never before have I seen an American president project such weakness on the global stage.”

The president at times seemed both anguished over the Paris attacks and frustrated with reporters’ questions, chiding them for asking the same question in slightly different forms. But he was also forceful in his statements that Muslims also bear a responsibility in rooting out extremists in their midst.

READ: 4 ways ISIS grounds its actions in religion, and why it should matter 

Some Muslims, he said, are “not as willing to challenge extremist thought or why Muslims feel oppressed.” Those ideas, he said, “must be challenged” by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

“In the same way the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligations as Christians, and we are, it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. … That is what my administration intends to stand for.”


About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • It would be nice to have a president who put protecting Americans as Priority No. One. It would also be nice to have a president who showed some real strong concern over the widespread slaughter of Christians across the Middle East. It will be interesting to see how much Democrats jump to second his policies–or lack thereof

  • It will be nice when we have a president who never has to mention religion at all, because it has become a nearly forgotten relic of the distant past.

    And why should Obama be concerned about Christians specifically, when so many others of other religions and no religion are also being slaughtered? Your “nice” is actually reprehensible.

  • It sounds to me that Obama is willing to sacrifice the lives of American citizens for the welfare of Syrians.

  • It will be best when God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) soon puts an end to all wicked ones/terrorists on the entire planet in the near future (Isaiah 11:1-9) so that all meek ones can finally enjoy life (Psalm 37:10,11).

    How could it qualify to do that? It can read peoples’ hearts (Proverbs 17:3) and really know what kind of people they are inside. Man’s governments can’t, usually judge by outward appearance, and could make a wrong judgment.

  • It sounds like you are the panicky sort who is easily manipulated by both terrorists and political opportunists.

    This is exactly the kind of reaction IS wants towards the refugees. It makes their job easier when people have a more difficult time fleeing their grasp. You are going to let thousands of people die or be enslaved because you take the boasting of miscreants and sectarian biases seriously.

  • What needs to be said:

    The global world reeks from the stench of the biggest con job ever pulled on humankind. Islamic tenets are nothing but the fairy tales and cons of an hallucinating, contriving, warmongering, womanizing Arab named Mohammed. And that my friends is the message. That along with the messages about the other oozing stench-filled con jobs pulled by the likes of Paul et al and the scribes of Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

  • Acting as if excluding Muslims from immigration is religious discrimination is disingenuous. There are plenty of cultural reasons – including quite important ones in regards to things like respect for pluralism and rule of law – to limit Middle Eastern and North African Muslims from entry.

    And Obama’s sanctimonious ‘Not who we are’ hectoring is laughable. We’re not a country that sets aside constitutionally prescribed legislative practices in pursuit of partisan agendas either, but that hasn’t stopped him.

  • Muslims are no more dangerous than any other group. There are extremists and terrorist in any group, but they do not define the group. Most terrorist acts within the United States have been committed by people identifying as Christian, even if those acts weren’t labeled as “terrorism”.

  • Aside from the 1st amendment violation, what would stop a muslim (terrorist or not) from claiming to be christian? Are you going to give every one of them an extensive test on the bible? Most christians wont pass that either.

  • The last time we made such blanket assumptions and stereotypes to people seeking asylum from persecution and war, we consigned thousands of people to death camps.

    “We’re not a country that sets aside constitutionally prescribed legislative practices in pursuit of partisan agendas either”

    As usual, nativism REQUIRES absolute ignorance of the laws concerning people coming to our country. There is no “prescribed legislative practice” here to speak of. You are talking nonsense here.

    Our Asylum and Refugee system is wholly part of the Executive branch. At Presidential discretion. The only thing Congress does on the subject is revise the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA). The INA only provides the qualification for an asylum seeker. One not guided by your assumptions and prejudices. The criteria being one who has a reasonable fear of imminent death or significant harm for political reasons if sent back.

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