By Bob Allen
Religion flourishes in the United States because of the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, President Obama said in a 25-minute address to the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 5.
“The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world, far more religious than most western developed countries,” Obama told the prayer gathering at the Washington Hilton Hotel. “One of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.
“Our government does not sponsor a religion nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith or any faith at all,” Obama said. “The result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can frequently and proudly worship without fear or coercion.”
“That’s not the case in theocracies that restrict people’s choice of faith,” he said. “It’s not the case in authoritarian governments that elevate an individual leader or a political party above the people or in some cases above the concept of God himself.”
“The freedom of religion is a value we will continue to protect here at home and stand up for around the world and is one that we guard vigilantly here in the United States,” Obama said.
The president described religion as a force which accomplishes great good in the world but too often is “twisted and misused in the name of evil.”
“No God condones terror,” he said. “No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.”
One remedy for that, he said, is for persons who profess any faith to do so with humility and respect for others.
“I believe the starting place of faith is some doubt,” Obama said, “not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us and doesn’t speak to others — that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”
“Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth,” he said. “Our job is to be true to him, his word and his commandments. And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing — we’re staggering and stumbling towards him — and have some humility in that process.”
Obama said one law that binds people of all faiths together is the Golden Rule “that we should treat one another as we wish to be treated.”
“The Torah says love your neighbor as yourself,” he said. “In Islam, there’s a Hadith that states ‘none of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’ The Holy Bible tells us to put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
“Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace and bringing light where there is darkness and sowing love where there is hatred,” Obama said.
Audience members included the Dalai Lama, whom Obama called “a powerful example of what it means to practice and act” on behalf of the “freedom and dignity of all human beings.”
Former NASCAR champion turned broadcaster Darrell Waltrip gave the keynote address, and Dr. Kent Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse, who contracted Ebola in Liberia but has been cured, offered a prayer.
The president commended Pope Francis for his focus on the poor and said he looks forward to welcoming him when he visits the U.S. later this year.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II was scheduled to read a scripture but had returned to his country after ISIL executed a Jordanian pilot.
— With White House pool reporting.