President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., Feb. 5, 2015. Photo courtesy of the White House/Pete Souza *Editors: This photograph is provided by THE WHITE HOUSE as a courtesy and is for one time use only by the Religion News Service. This photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not otherwise be reproduced, disseminated, or broadcast without the written permission of the White House Photo Office. This photograph may not be used in any commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

President Obama: Religious freedom keeps us strong (RNS EXCLUSIVE - COMMENTARY)

(RNS) This past week, I had the privilege of visiting the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a mosque that serves thousands of Muslim American families, as well as neighbors of different faiths. Like houses of worship across our country, it’s a place where families come together to pray, but also a school where students learn and a health clinic that serves those in need. My visit was a chance to celebrate the contributions that Muslim Americans make to our country every day and to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of religion.

Our Founders knew that religious liberty is essential not only to protect religion, but because religion helps strengthen our nation. From our Revolution to the abolition of slavery, from women’s rights to civil rights, men and women of faith have often helped move our nation closer to our founding ideals. This progress is part of what makes us a beacon to the world.

Likewise, generations of Muslim Americans have helped build our country. They’re the teachers who inspire our kids, and the nurses and doctors whom we trust with our health. They’re the champions we cheer for -- from Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They’re the police and firefighters who keep us safe, and the men and women in uniform who have fought and bled and died for our freedom.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Baltimore, Md., Feb. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of the White House/Pete Souza.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Baltimore on Feb. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of the White House/Pete Souza *Editors: This photograph is provided by THE WHITE HOUSE as a courtesy and is for one time use only by the Religion News Service. This photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not otherwise be reproduced, disseminated, or broadcast without the written permission of the White House Photo Office. This photograph may not be used in any commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Since 9/11, however, and more recently since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, some have blamed the horrific acts of a few on the broader Muslim community. Right now, many Muslim Americans are worried because threats and harassment against their community, are on the rise. We’ve seen Muslim Americans assaulted, children bullied and mosques vandalized, and we’ve heard shameful political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country.


RELATED STORY: Obama pleads for tolerance in first visit to US mosque


When any part of our American family is made to feel isolated or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation. So we have to tackle this problem together, head-on.

First, at a time when others are trying to divide us along religious lines, we have to reaffirm that most fundamental truth -- that we are all God's children, all born equal with inherent dignity. Mere tolerance of different religions is not enough. Our faiths summon us to actively embrace our common humanity. Muslim Americans can keep reaching out and sharing their faith to help more Americans understand Islam’s tradition of peace, charity and justice. Americans of all faiths can reach out to their Muslim American neighbors -- perhaps even visit the nearest mosque -- to help break down stereotypes and build understanding.

Second, as Americans, we have to stay true to our core values, and that includes freedom of religion for all faiths. An attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths, and when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. We cannot be bystanders to bigotry. We have to reject any politics that targets people because of religion. We have to make sure that hate crimes are punished, and that the civil rights of all Americans are upheld.


RELATED STORY: Obama at prayer breakfast: ‘Jesus is a good cure for fear’


Third, as we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas of terrorists themselves. Groups like ISIL are desperate to portray themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors who speak for Islam. We must never give them that legitimacy. They’re not defending Islam or Muslims -- the vast majority of the people they kill are innocent Muslim men, women and children. America could never be at war with Islam, or any other faith, because the world’s religions are a part of our national character. So we should never play into terrorist propaganda or suggest that all Muslims, or Islam itself, is the problem. That betrays our values. It alienates Muslim Americans. It helps our enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe.

President Barack Obama greets students and guests along the rope line following remarks to students the gymnasium at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Baltimore, Md., Feb. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of the White House/Amanda Lucidon.

President Barack Obama greets students and guests along the rope line following remarks to students at the gymnasium of the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Baltimore on Feb. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of the White House/Amanda Lucidon *Editors: This photograph is provided by THE WHITE HOUSE as a courtesy and is for one time use only by the Religion News Service. This photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not otherwise be reproduced, disseminated, or broadcast without the written permission of the White House Photo Office. This photograph may not be used in any commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Finally, just as all Americans have a responsibility to reject discrimination, Muslims around the world have a responsibility to continue to push back against extremist ideologies that are threatening some of their communities. This is not some clash of civilizations between the West and Islam; it’s a struggle within Islam, between the peace-loving majority and a radical minority. That’s why across the Islamic world, Muslim leaders are not only roundly and repeatedly condemning terrorism, they are also speaking out with an affirmative vision of their faith. America -- and I, as president -- will continue to help lift up and amplify these voices of peace and pluralism.

I want every Muslim American who may be wondering where they fit in to know that you’re right where you belong -- because you're part of America, too. You are not Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American. And I want all Americans to know that across our country and around the world, Muslim communities are standing up for peace and understanding as well.

We are one American family. And I’m confident that if we stay true to our values -- including protecting the right of all people to practice their faith free from fear -- we will stay strong and united. We are, and must always remain, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

(Barack Obama is president of the United States)

President Barack Obama greets members of the audience after he delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque and Al-Rahmah School in Baltimore, Maryland, Feb. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of the White House/Pete Souza.

President Barack Obama greets members of the audience after he delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque and Al-Rahmah School in Baltimore on Feb. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of the White House/Pete Souza *Editors: This photograph is provided by THE WHITE HOUSE as a courtesy and is for one time use only by the Religion News Service. This photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not otherwise be reproduced, disseminated, or broadcast without the written permission of the White House Photo Office. This photograph may not be used in any commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Comments

  1. Before you are sure of your interpretation of the Quran it is essential that you understand ‘Abrogation’.

  2. It’s great to talk about “religious freedom.” Unfortunately, what that means to people can vary immensely.

    For many, it means “freedom to follow any religion, or none at all, or a mixture of them, or even to invent one’s own faith and follow that.” For the Religious Right, it means “freedom to impose their version of their religion on EVERYONE because their version of their religion teaches that they MUST be allowed to do so and that their version of their religion is the ONLY one that any human being should be permitted to follow.”

    Toward that end, they demand that things be outlawed … for EVERYONE, regardless of their own religion … simply because they don’t think it’s permissible. And they have no problem with this, because in reality they think other people of other religions don’t actually have a right to follow those other religions.

  3. Actually its not only license to sin, its also a prohibition from giving your notions of sin color of law.

    What is considered sinful and what is considered moral or lawful are vastly different things

    What Jesus says is of no concern for our laws nor can you compel people to care what they were using legal force. Religious freedom means it is strictly a personal business between you and your beliefs. Not the concern of anyone else.

  4. Your opinions of the Quran and Muslims is of no importance as to whether Muslims are entitled to free exercise of their religion. Nor is it relevant to notions of equal protection under the law.

    There is a certain subset of Christians who use the words “religious freedom” when they are really trying to say “undue privilege over others”. People who claim their religious beliefs give them a right to discriminate and attack others without legal or social reprecussions. They decry Sharia Law yet want to enact their own version of it. Religious freedom only exists when it applies to all faiths. Otherwise it is simply a euphemism for sectarian discrimination.

  5. Re: “Religious freedom is not a license to sin.”

    Of course that’s what it is … a license to “sin”! Why do I say that? There’s a reason for that, and it’s because there is no universal definition of “sin.” And it turns out there’s a reason for that, which is that different religions define different things as “sin.” Because we have “religious freedom,” we have different people living according to different definitions of “sin.” What one person decries as “sin,” and demands be outlawed, may not be “sin” in the eyes of some others whose religions are different.

    And then of course, “freedom of religion” means people are also free not to have any definitions of “sin” at all. That would include me. “Sin” is an anachronistic concept which is no longer useful. Now, you could certainly try to impose your idea of “sin” on me and force me to live as you want me to … but you’d fail utterly, because it will never happen. Too bad so sad for you.

  6. Wow, it’s great that you can express yourself and not get arrested!

  7. Sure it’s a license to sin.

    It’s a sin not to believe that jesus died for your sins. It’s a sin to believe in other gods besides the Christian one. It’s a sin to blashpeme the Christian god by even thinking that a different religious story is true,.

    ALL of those things are sins worthy of damnation. But you don’t have to give a damn what I believe, and vice versa. Religious freedom means we can all believe whatever we want, and the secular law which governs all of us will not punish, harm, or disadvantage me for not believing your strictly theological concerns. And vice versa.

  8. It’s not the belief system, it’s what you do with it.

    Some people of a given faith think it’s a religious virtue to mistreat other-believers. Other people of that same religion are appalled by the very idea. Still others think such abuse is permitted but not blessed. Many, maybe most, think religious cruelty is an ancient, primitive value that belongs in the past and is unthinkable today — despite what their ancient scriptures still say. A few merciful believers may even think that certain parts of their ancient scriptures — such as the rarely discussed and generally ignored exhortations to cruelty traditionally attributed to the God of Abraham in biblical passages such as Joshua 6-8, Matthew 7 & 10, Luke 10, and Revelation 20 — should be edited/updated for the sake of human decency.

    What do you believe?

  9. It’s important to recognize that a similar range of thoughts and values exist in non-Abrahamic faiths — and in the nonreligious community as well. Regardless of belief or nonbelief, some people fight for Equality, Respect, and Compassion, others fight for Inequality, Trespass, and Cruelty, and still others stand by and claim to be neutral.

    Personally, I believe that it is wholly wrongful, and holistically harmful, for any spiritual/existential belief system or believer to disrespect another’s boundaries. I believe that it is blasphemous for any shepherd or sheep to claim rights to another’s blessed pasture. And I believe that such ungodly trespass leads to inhuman cruelty.

    Now that humans can finally communicate with each other all over the world, isn’t it about time we discussed how we treat each other?

  10. @Torin93,

    Thank Atheists for your right to religion.
    The people who wrote the first Amendment did not believe in Jesus Christ – in fact they despised religion and wanted to make sure it would never be too powerful in the USA.

    “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion…”
    – First Amendment
    THE ATHEIST CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES

    THIS GUARANTEES no religion shall be forced on anyone.
    Long live blasphemy.

  11. That all ancient god worship should have disappeared with the camel and sheepherders.

  12. Diogenes,

    Max is generally correct.

    The founding ‘fathers’ of America are on record for despising what they considered the mindless wars of religion which were something of a routine in Europe. The solution they came up with was to keep religion out of the powerful reigns of government so as to prevent the state from enforcing its godly battles on non-believers and others.
    Max is also correct about who to thank for our religious freedoms – the writers were non believers of the biblical god (they were deists, not christians).

    Religion was allowed as a private expression. But forbidden as public law. That concept is a blasphemy to many religions but it is what has enabled so much religious freedom in America.

  13. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love his Father, God, with your whole heart, mind and soul. The second one is to love your fellowman as yourself. So what Jesus said is of real value to us Unfortunately, love for our fellowman cannot be “legislated” by any of man’s governments, laws and commands. It requires sincere desire and action on the part of humans to make it happen and become real.

  14. I fully support the President’s statements in support of American Muslims. Now, when can we expect a statement reminding everyone that atheists also have freedoms? When will he say we are not atheist or American, but rather atheist and American?

  15. I want to adopt your comment and give it a good home and bicycle.

  16. What remains left out of the political and religious conversation is a legitimate discussion about our poverty crisis. The fact remains that not everyone is able to work (health, etc.), there simply aren’t jobs for all. The US shipped out a huge number of jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s. The last I heard, there are seven jobs for every ten people who still have the means to search for one (can’t get a job without a home address, phone, bus fare). I think that this generation’s flat indifference toward the suffering of those who are left out, tells us something very disturbing about what we have become, as a people.

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