WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Thursday underscored that there is a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion, as he called for tolerance and humility in dealing with challenges.
There’s wisdom in our (American) founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility. They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion, he said at the National Prayer Breakfast.
For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both,” Obama declared in comments that pointed out the need for a balance between freedom of speech with freedom of religion.
If in fact we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, were equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are targets of such attacks,Obama said.
His remarks came in the backdrop of Muslim condemnation of controversial French publication Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish sketches of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).
The killing of French journalists and publication of sketches have stirred up a fierce debate over limits to freedom of expression.
In his speech, Obama said while faith has inspired people to lift up one another to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife, the world has also seen faith “being twisted and distorted.”
From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, is betraying it.
Obama also deplored ISIS as a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.
We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.
Humanity, he noted, has been grappling with these questions throughout history, and referred to incidents of discrimination and violence against religious communities around the world including in India.
And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
Michelle and I returned from India an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.
So this is not unique to one group or one religion, he added.
On the way out of current troubles, he said, we should start with some basic humility.
Obama, at the same time, stressed that no grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.
And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion for their own nihilistic ends. And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom of religion the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.
So 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.