President Barack Obama affirms the right of every person to reject faith in God, and to do so free from persecution and fear, while speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Speaking at the annual event Obama condemned those who seek to use religion as a rationale for carrying out violence around the world, declaring that “no god condones terror.”
Obama said that the “twisting and distorting” of faith is “not unique to one group or one religion,” noting that Christians also had a history of justifying atrocities in the name of Jesus.
Commenting on the current state of the world, Obama said:
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.
Obama reminded his audience of the deplorable history of Christianity, pointing out the horrors of the Crusades and Inquisition, as well as America’s racist past with slavery and Jim Crow:
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.
Perhaps most important, Obama affirmed the right of every person to reject faith in a god, free from persecution and fear:
… central to that dignity is freedom of religion — the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear.
Obama also expressed his opposition to blasphemy laws around the world, so often used to intimidate and silence the critics of religious superstition:
Going forward, we will keep standing for religious freedom around the world. And that includes, by the way, opposing blasphemy and defamation of religion measures, which are promoted sometimes as an expression of religion, but, in fact, all too often can be used to suppress religious minorities.
In addition, Obama called the Dalai Lama a “good friend” and an inspiration for freedom, saying Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader was “a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion and who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.”
Obama condemned those who seek to “highjack religion for their own murderous ends.” He called the Islamic State militants who have overtaken parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded Westerners it has captured a “death cult.”
A full transcript of Obama’s remarks can be found here.