Obama’s defense of religious freedom

On Friday, Glenn Greenwald wrote:

This is one of the most impressive and commendable things Obama has done since being inaugurated:

President Obama delivered a strong defense on Friday night of a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, using a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan to proclaim that “as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country” . . . .

“I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground,” the president said in remarks prepared for the annual White House iftar, the sunset meal breaking the day’s fast.

But, he continued: “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are” . . . .

What makes this particularly commendable is there is virtually no political gain to be had from doing it, and substantial political risk. Polls shows overwhelming opposition to the mosque nationwide (close to 70% opposed), and that’s true even in New York, where an extraordinary “50% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, and 52% of ‘non-enrolled’ voters, don’t want to see the mosque built.” The White House originally indicated it would refrain from involving itself in the dispute, and there was little pressure or controversy over that decision. There was little anger over the President’s silence even among liberal critics. And given the standard attacks directed at Obama — everything from being “soft on Terror” to being a hidden Muslim — choosing this issue on which to take a very politically unpopular and controversial stand is commendable in the extreme.

On Saturday, Obama was questioned by CNN on the reaction provoked by his speech the night before. Obama responded:

My intention was to simply let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country, we treat everybody equally in accordance with the law. Regardless of race. Regardless of religion. I was not commenting on and will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country’s about and I think it’s very important that as difficult as some of these issues are, we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.

Fair enough?

Well not if you’re a journalist who wants to construct a story about the president who “seemed to contradict himself.”

In a country that has a constitution that protects religious freedom by separating Church and State, what business does any politician have in expressing an opinion about the wisdom of building a house of worship anywhere? Just because this is a representative democracy doesn’t mean elected politicians have an obligation to reflect the bigotry of their constituents.

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3 thoughts on “Obama’s defense of religious freedom

  1. Ian Clark

    Understanding the US constitution does not discriminate against any religious group, the problem is that Islam constitutionally is a very political religion and specifically, mosques have been the means by which radical, anti-western philosophy, diatribes and plots have been promoted in other countries. From a practical point of view, enabling a mosque so close to a site in which Muslim radicals have deeply offended this country is tantamount to announcing that we do not understand the threat we face. Profiling, maybe, but prudent.

  2. Miriam

    Ian wrote:
    “Islam is a very political religion”……

    Islam has been for centuries a culturally diverse and peaceful source of strength with little to no mention in the West, except when being plundered by one or more Empires. When church and God are used to motivate troops as we read about evangelizing going on at the Air Force Academy, and even in the Pentagon during the height of the Iraq invasion…..there IS politicization but it is NOT from Islam, rather it is the evangelicals and zionist zealots who continue to demonize, dehumanize and call for perpetual wars against lands with Muslims yet only a handful have Reacted with violence. 3000 died in NYC and is now being reverently called “holy”….but is that is what it takes to become a holy spot then what is Baghdad now after two US invasions…after 500,000 children died but worth it (ALBRIGHT SAID) and a Million Iraqis dead since 2003 and 2 million displaced refugees.
    Where has the violence stemmed from? what are the origins? Who owns the US CONGRESS? controls US msm message?
    The majority of those ‘offended’ should shut off Glen Beck and Limbaugh bigots and go walk around the area in lower Manhattan and take notice of how many abandoned business and established Brothels and private men’s clubs existed there for years?
    I think its a courageous and generous GIFT to NYC that the Cordoba Group purchased that old abandoned Burlington Coat Factory years ago and planned to build a community facility along with a spiritual oasis in Manhattan. As American look back in shame at the auctioneering of slaves on Wall Street, at the concentration camps for Japanese Americans and confiscation of their homes and businesses without just compensation …at US use of nuclear weapons on civilians…at the unending wars in impoverished Afghanistan, and the 60 +yrs of suffering and occupation of Palestine….a simple act of building a community center says we shall overcome…even this latest racist bigoted ignorant affront. Again. Engagement not profiling is a solution…and far more ‘prudent’.

  3. Phil Dennany

    It is true that Islam is sometimes political just as Christian and Jewish are, but most folks know very well that radical components of Muslims had absolutely no part in the events of 9-11 destruction. Folks that cling to the Bush regime lies/fantasy story should take a serious look for themselves. The radicals at ground zero on that terrible day were not Muslim, but in fact were Jewish citizens.

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