Religious voices respond to State of the Union

U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool.
U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool.

President Obama waves at the conclusion of his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington on Jan. 12, 2016. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool

(RNS) In his last State of the Union address, President Obama made an impassioned case against religious bigotry and cast other key issues in moral terms.

He rejected “any politics that targets people because of race or religion.”

“This is not a matter of political correctness,” he said. “This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

Agreeing with Pope Francis by speaking against hatred and quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who called for unity, the president said Tuesday (Jan. 12): “When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.”

Here are some reactions to Obama’s remarks:

Rabbi Jack Moline is the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, a political lobbying organization dedicated to promoting Jewish values within the Democratic Party and the political process. Photo courtesy Rabbi Jack Moline

Rabbi Jack Moline is executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, a political lobbying organization dedicated to promoting Jewish values within the Democratic Party and the political process. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Jack Moline

Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance:

“The president made a powerful call tonight for a new politics, one that rejects bigotry, hatred and division. He demonstrated that commitment to a politics of inclusion tonight by rejecting anti-Muslim bigotry and standing for religious freedom. It is incumbent upon each of us to answer the president’s call to ensure that the legacy endures and the state of our first freedom remains strong.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council:

“President Obama’s faith in Washington is far greater than his faith in the American people. He calls for national unity in the same breath that he lauds same-sex marriage — the single most divisive Supreme Court decision since Roe vs. Wade. And his condescending attitude discourages the kind of cooperation he claims to desire.”

Nihad Awad, national executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations:

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations. Photo courtesy the Council on American Islamic Relations

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Photo courtesy of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

“We welcome President Obama’s strong rejection of Islamophobic rhetoric in politics, which sent a clear message to candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson who promote and exploit anti-Muslim bigotry for their own political gain. We must leverage the strength of our diversity in this nation and worldwide. America is made stronger because of its religious and ethnic diversity.”

Jawad Khaki, Seattle-area imam who attended as a guest of Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.:

“President Obama’s message reaffirms my confidence in our nation when he calls on all of us to face the future with confidence, not fear, by living up to the values from which our nation’s strengths are derived. He has set an example for all those in leadership and public office to follow by defending our values of inclusion, diversity, and compassion.”

B’nai B’rith International:

“Unfortunately, talk of Iran, the world’s largest global state sponsor of terror, was brief and incomplete. Just hours before the State of the Union address, Iran seized two U.S. navy patrol boats in the Persian Gulf, and is detaining 10 American sailors. This aggressive action is in line with Iran’s long-standing hostility toward the United States and the global community of nations.”

Tory Russell, co-founder of Hands Up United:

“He talked about immigration and not being discriminatory toward Muslims or Islam or immigrants as he is deporting and using ICE to deport our brown brothers and sisters in places like New Orleans, in places like Texas.”

Haroon Moghul, fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding:

American Humanist Association:


(Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national reporter for RNS)

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • It is bigoted to attack a group – Muslims, Jews or whatever.
    But it is not bigoted to argue against a religion. Religions are just silly ideas and we are better off arguing about them with words rather than guns in a country which allows freedom of speech.

    “Muslims” are not Islam. They people and they deserve their rights.
    But “Islam” is just an idea – it has no rights by itself – and it needs to be hotly debated along with all other religions.

    I wish the President could have articulated it better. But nobody has the patience and free speech loses.

  • Right. Every person deserves respect – but ideas are not people any more than corporations are people. Ideas don’t deserve respect – they deserve to be discussed, examined, compared to the evidence, evaluated for their helpfulness (or harmfulness) and compared impartially.

    Calling an idea a “faith” or “religion” means nothing. It is still and idea, and doesn’t get any special privilege.

    Thank you, Max.

  • Gotta love that American Humanist Association. They are so blind, they are not even aware that President Obama is the closest thing they’ve EVER had to an Atheist President.

  • Religious leaders are not leaders. They act like spoiled playground bullies. Until everyone thinks like they do there is no “freedom”. I am sick of hearing from rich religious leaders. They spend most of their time seeking out issues for controversy. To these leaders..your 15 minutes is over. Try turning to your religion instead of proclaiming your religion. Yeah..that’s going to happen.

  • Muslims were the connection to Islam. Over the years the two words became as one. As Russian Jews became Jews so did the many Muslims of many eastern Islam countries became Muslim. What you are saying is true but I think the world has joined them and separation may never be again.

  • This is just another example of Obama choosing to excoriate his opposition and pretend they’re the biggest enemies of America, even as Iran holds 10 captured sailors, that he refuses to talk about, and the deluded ISIS fighters find more and more ways to use our freedoms against us, to attack us from within.

    This is the worst reverse-leader we’ve ever had! Obama would do well to just shut up! Every time he speaks about gun control, several hundred-thousand more citizens go out and buy guns! Smith & Wesson’s stock has risen 500% during Obama’s tenure. He truly is an historic, influential figure, but in exactly the wrong direction!

  • Iran released the sailors already. The whole thing was over so fast it barely registers as a controversy except from the more wingnutty sources.

    “the deluded ISIS fighters find more and more ways to use our freedoms against us, to attack us from within. ”

    Like making politicians say silly things like the US is declaring war against all Islam, suggesting the 1st Amendment does not apply to Muslims, and suggesting faith based refugee/aslyum criteria. /sarcasm

    Its not ISIS which is using our freedoms to attack us from within.

  • @Doc,

    Yes. Obama is probably an Atheist.

    But Religion insists on three totalitarian commands:
    1) Everyone must believe in Messiah/God.
    2) Everyone must expect Messiah/God.
    3) Everyone must seek Messiah/God on earth.

    One is outcast if one won’t pay homage to those ideas.

    Stepping into the Messiah role is easy in a very religious country. Atheists like Stalin do it all the time.
    Religion is useful to politicians but dangerous to democracy.
    Atheist Donald Trump can play the Messiah just as Atheist Obama played it when he needed to also.

    Our only hope is the separation of church and state.

  • It’s funny that religion is “just a silly idea” and atheism, of course, is not 🙂

    What’s even more silly is that atheism’s naturalistic materialism “believes” that chemicals and atoms, against all odds, “naturally” give rise to a conscious thing that can “believe” a belief, let alone a true one. What does sodium and potassium care about true things?

    There is no good reason to believe chemicals having true beliefs should be the case. I won’t say “that’s silly” because I respect your beliefs.

  • What’s really silly is that Christians believe that chemicals, atoms, or something else gave rise to a god with the intelligence, power, and skills to create the entire universe and all its living inhabitants.

  • My biggest disappointment this year is that I won’t have the opportunity to vote for Obama to serve a third term.

  • That is a terrible endorsement for religious faith!

    You are saying you believe in God because you are too lazy to read science texts, or conceive of well established scientific principles. I am sure there are far better reasons to believe than that.

  • @Jesus is Lord,

    “What’s even more silly is that atheism’s naturalistic materialism believes that chemicals and atoms “naturally” give rise to a conscious thing”

    Claiming “god did it” is an immature, lazy approach to mystery. It is silly.
    The evidence shows life evolves from simple to more complex forms. Like Theories of Plate Tectonics, Gravity and Germ Theory of Disease, Evolution is true whether one believes it or not.

    There is no good reason to believe chemicals having true beliefs should be the case. I won’t say “that’s silly” because I respect your beliefs.

    You are trying to cloak your ignorance of science as if it were piety – but it won’t work. You certainly have not respected science enough to learn about it.
    Once the evidence has been clearly demonstrated, ignorance becomes a decision – a willful act.

    And yes, I’ll blame religion for that, too. Because it encourages ignorance.

  • Religion has a parasitic relationship with freedom. It needs freedom to survive and flourish but as it grows it kills freedom.

  • The thing that disturbs me the most is how people criticize all the belief systems that they, themselves, have never systematically studied, and furthermore with very little understanding of their own belief systems.

  • Please direct such statements at Fundamentalists of all faiths who insist that any belief besides their own is not worthy of consideration or respect.

    Most notably direct it towards Evangelical Christians who are so enamored by their self-righteousness that they frequently demean and insult the recently deceased for not being one of them. 🙂

  • Careful with that broad brush, as a modern polytheist and Pagan, none of those three statements actually apply to me or my religion. That said, I agree that a separation between church and state imperils neither while the opposite destroys both.

  • How do ;you know that Jesus will come soon? The Bible says that no one knows when he will come, not even Jesus himself.

  • But, “Jesus is Lord,” Max would say we should not respect each others’ beliefs, only our right to believe or disbelieve.

    I’m saying it a lot more eloquently than Max, but I think that’s what he’s saying.

  • @David,

    “broad brush”

    Yes, your correction is duly noted.
    All religions do not insist on universal adherence to Messianism. Just the dominant ones of the moment.

  • “If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government how can its legal establishment be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical ESTABLISHMENTS had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people.”

    See? That fit nicely within the character limit. With room enough for more of the same letter:

    “Because the policy of the Bill [religious assessments] is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former!”

  • Isn’t it amusing (or maybe sickening is the correct word) how TrueChristians heap praise and adulation upon an adulterous whoring tramp after she claims to be ‘born again,’ and then burnishes her precarious bona fides by trampling on the lives of gay people

  • TCreationism is not a belief, its a claim of alleged facts. It’s an argument for belief. A very silly one on both counts.

    It denies faith and and reduces belief to an expression of personal ignorance.

    Believers can do better by their religion by dropping such nonsense.

  • “I am entitled not to care.”

    That is technically true, but you offer so many gratuitous criticisms concerning religious matters around here, that ANY suggestion you now make about “not caring”, is essentially demonstated at this point to be a flat-out atheistic falsehood.

  • Precisely, Doc. It’s pretty obvious, weighing the nearly nonexistent number of religious on atheist forums against the multitudes of atheists on religious ones, who cares about what. I think we can guess why, as well.

  • Not to mention when they feign sexual orientation sensitivity. ?

    I’d think many of them were conservative Poe trolls if I did not know first-hand how much misogyny and malice lies beneath the mask of liberal “sensitivity.”

  • Max
    You are saying liberal Christians are atheists?
    Do you really believe that?
    Have you visited many liberal Christian services?

    I flunked religion a long time ago, but have talked to countless liberal Christians, and they do not (all) look like atheists to me. Yes, I know there are Christian atheists, just as there are Jewish atheists.

    best wishes from one of the “nothings”

  • AZ Jack,
    ” Religious leaders are not leaders. They act like spoiled playground bullies…rich religious leaders…spend most of their time seeking out issues for controversy. ”

    Good observation.

  • larry,
    ” …one’s belief is not special privilege… As long as we both behave in a civil fashion, everything works. ”


  • Jack,
    you should read atheist Max a little more carefully. He/she is the best atheist debater i’ve seen in a while.

  • It’s absolutely true that arguing against a religion isn’t wrong, it’s rather presumptuous though, and should be approached with caution by anyone hoping to be a broadly accepted communicator. Just as it would be terribly presumptuous and to my mind inappropriate for a politician to declare atheists to be dangerous because their lack of a belief in a higher power makes them more likely to commit terrible crimes and should therefore be treated with greater skepticism that those who DO believe in a higher power, so do I consider it unseemly to call out Islam as being somehow inherently conducive to crime and violence and thus worthy of particular restriction. People religious views are their own, not to be attacked, supported, or dictated by the state, the community, or anyone not them. If they wield their religion like a bludgeon to punish others for perceived sinfulness, it is for that action that I will condemn them, not their belief.

  • @dmj76,

    “are you saying liberal Christians are atheists?”

    Of course not!
    Don’t you know? Obama believes none of the Bible.
    Like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson he attacks the Bible fundamentally:

    “Even if we had only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would it be James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK – and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith. Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application….”

    – Barack Obama, 2006

    Good for the President. Honesty!

  • Interesting speech. Here is some more of it:

    “At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word “Christian” describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.”

    “…secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history — were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

  • You must not get out much.

    If Max were more eloquent, he might not have to rely on misrepresentation so much to make his points. Because that’s what a “careful reading” of his stuff almost always turns up.

  • Not much feigning there either. Liberals don’t support discrimination on the basis of orientation. Same cant be said about yourself.

  • Not technically true, actually true. You can’t compel me to care what your religion says on any given subject. Your religious beliefs are not so protected under the law, that they are immune to criticism.

  • As a Christian that seems beyond silly to us because it is not at all what we believe. God says “I AM”.. “I am the Alpha and Omega”. He is the Begining and the End. Before there was no one else. He always has been and always will be, whether you believe it or not. When he comes again in the clouds of glory you’ll find out if you are right or not.

  • I’ve already “tried out” atheist forums, not as a poster but as a reader, because long ago when I used to comment at HuffPo Religion I was always surprised at how many scoffers would show up not because they knew anything about the subject or wanted to learn anything but simply to hear themselves spew at length, at all hours of the day and night, about something they supposedly “didn’t care” about (I heard that hogwash all the time), and I honestly wondered if the reverse were true. I checked out various atheist forums and saw nothing equivalent there — just scoffers mostly exchanging lame and frequently vulgar one-liners mocking religion. That’s all. Pfft. I’d sooner eavesdrop at a junior high lunch table.

    MOST people have lives, Lare, and they expend it on things that matter to them. They don’t linger like a bad bedbug infestation on religious forums “criticizing” things they “don’t care about.”

  • “Liberals don’t support discrimination on the basis of orientation.” They don’t support discrimination but refer to women as “butches,” “whores,” and “tramps.” Nice. Kind of reminiscent of sniveling guys who recite all the right feminist platitudes and then stamp their little footsies if women won’t put out in return.

    Truer words were never spoken than: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, although the kisses of an enemy are profuse.” Prov. 27:6.

  • Btw, Lare, because of your glowing recommendation I gave The Friendly Atheist a glance. Skimmed several pages of comments on the first half dozen or so articles. Same big yawn as every other atheist blog I’ve ever seen. Same reams of lame one-liners, same vulgarity, no discussion. And again, no Christian presence–and no reason for there to be any. I can’t imagine what you were thinking referring me to that snooze-fest but sorry, not interested.

  • Dmj,

    I would also add that hate, prejudice and war is the “heart” of a heartless and wicked world, which we all presently live in.

    It’s also a shame that a majority of religions today inculcate those terrible qualities and are involved in wars, as well as politics that usually encourage them. Love of our fellowman is not practiced nor promoted by them. Those religions will receive their due judgment by God himself.

  • shawnie5 – Max is spot 0n. Love his posts and religious news service co. should dedicate an entire page to max as he is quite refreshing. just saying i love it.

  • As noted above re the lack of Christian presence, athiests on average are much smarter, wealthier, more computer literate, and have more discretionary time than religious folk, hence athiests can spend more time on forums generally.

  • Yup, it is impossible to dwell for any length of time on these boards and not read Max. His Highness, the Emperor of Spam, is close to being omnipresent here.

    And no, Max is not a good debater for atheism. On one or two occasions, in fact, I’ve had to reassure people that I’m not paying him a dime to make atheists look foolish.

    Thankfully for atheists, they have better debaters than Max.

  • Still don’t get it, huh? Why should I go away? I care about religion and not atheism (nor NASCAR, the Kardashians, vegetarianism, or fung shui) which is why I am here and not on any of those sites. Larry and Ben are here continuously but supposedly (and very LOUDLY) don’t care about religion. That is why they are funny. I’m sure in lib la-la-land it is indeed very “mean” to point out such incongruities, and even more so to be amused by them, but hey, I’m just providing a valuable public service. ?

    BTW, dude, you already had a couple of posts removed for misogynistic vulgarity and abusiveness. Might want to stay a bit farther away from the line.

  • Evidently thinking isn’t your strong suit, Shawnie5. You are very s​t​​u​​pi​​d, and your denigrating, and evidently false comments about Larry and Ben plainly show how mean you are – a fine example of a typically mean and spiteful Christian.

    “Everyone” is obviously not laughing at Larry and Ben’s comments. Larry and Ben are doing an important public service in criticizing your beliefs and positions. If you can’t take the heat, go away.

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