President Barack Obama declared himself a defender of religious faith Thursday, and gently chided various governments and religions for limiting religious freedom.
“Freedom of religion matters to our national security… promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy,” he said at the National Prayer Breakfast, held annually in Washington D.C.
However, Obama described religious freedom in terms of actions that aid his progressive causes.
“Religion strengthens America,” Obama said. “Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights,” he said.
“Many of you carry on this good work today,” he told the audience. “For the child who deserves a school worthy of his dreams; for the parents working overtime to pull themselves out of poverty; for the immigrants who want to step out of the shadows” he said.
Pope Francis “inspires us with his words and deeds, his humility, his mercy and his missionary impulse to serve the cause of social justice,” Obama said. According to Catholic doctrine, the pope’s primary religious duty is saving souls.
“We sometimes see religion twisted,” Obama said, suggesting he knows best what each religion means. The twisting, he said, is intended “to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love.”
The phrase “who they love” is commonplace in Obama’s speeches, and evokes the progressive demand that homosexuality be given equal legal and social status as heterosexuality. It is frequently used by Obama to criticize Christians’ elevation of heterosexuality, and demotion of homosexuality.
He repeated the claim of superior knowledge when he declared that “extremists” — his usual euphemism for Islamic jihadis in Al Qaida — “succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess.”
“The killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will,” said president Obama.
The longstanding constitutional “wall of separation” that shields religions from government power in the United States has been an increasingly contentious issue since 2012, when Obama and his aides imposed a regulation requiring religious groups to fund abortion-related medical services via the government-run Obamacare network. The regulation is now in partial suspension, pending a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. (RELATED: Obama says ‘freedom of religion is under threat’ as Catholics sue administration)
When Obama turned his attention to earthly powers, he offered a few gentle criticism of his fellow government leaders around the world
“You see governments engaging in discrimination and violation against the faithful,” Obama said.
He suggested that Muslims were being oppressed by the governments of China and Burma, and suggested that Burma would remain diplomatically isolated until it ensures better treatment of local Muslims and Christians.
Obama cited the Muslim vs. Christian war in the Central African Republic. He did not mention the large-scale jihad attacks on Christians in Nigeria.
He also criticized North Korea and Iran for jailing two Christians. The U.S. government is doing “everything in our power to secure [the] release” of the American Christian in Korea, he said. The U.S. government will “continue to work for [the] freedom” of the jailed Iranian Christian, he said.