President Barack Obama speaks at Intel's Fab 42 in Chandler, AZ on January 25, 2012.

President Barack Obama speaks at Intel’s Fab 42 in Chandler, AZ on January 25, 2012. Photo courtesy Intel Photos/Flickr

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For a National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama’s laundry list of religious freedom concerns was awfully…international. No mention of Hobby Lobby, the contraceptive mandate, prayer in public schools, same-sex marriage, or the countless other domestic religious liberty issues currently dividing America.

The president’s brief speech side-stepped the political minefield of domestic politics to focus on more global issues. Here are some choice quotes from his speech followed by my analysis of what they mean.

“We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. Sometimes religion is twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, how they pray, or who they love.”

“Who they love” is no doubt a reference to homosexuality and the political and religious persecution LGBT communities face around the world, often in the name of religion.

“We believe in the inherent dignity of every human being, a dignity that no earthly power can take away. 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 of persecution and fear.”

One of the president’s increasingly common nods to atheists.

“Nations that uphold the rights of their people, including freedom of religion, are ultimately more just, peaceful and successful. Nations that do not uphold these rights sew the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism. So freedom of religion matters to our national security.”

The emerging politicized argument that religious freedom isn’t just about human rights. More and more so, religious freedom is being championed as good for business, democracy and national security.

“It’s in our interest even with our partners, sometimes with our friends to stand up for universal human rights. So promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. I’m proud that no nation on earth does more to stand up for  freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America.”

A strong segue to start finger wagging and prodding America’s allies and foes around the world.

“Realizing China’s potential rests on upholding universal rights, including for Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims.”

Don’t forget the Falun Gong.

“Burma’s return to the international community depends on respecting basic freedoms including for Christians and Muslims.”

Especially the Rohingya.

“No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all people, including religious minorities. Whether they’re Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Baha’is in Iran, or Coptic Christians in Egypt. In Syria, it means ensuring a place for all people, Alawites and Sunnis, Shias and Christians.”

Good, although by no means exhaustive, list of persecuted minority faith groups in the broader Middle East. The president was wise to call Ahmadis “Muslims” rather than heretics, as they’re commonly viewed in Pakistan.

“Going forward, we will keep standing for religious freedom around the world. That includes 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.

Take that, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation! The OIC tried for more than a decade to push through such measures in the United Nations. Some people are worried they’re at it again. Dozens of countries around the world, including several in Europe, still have laws on the books against blasphemy, apostasy and religious defamation.

“We continue to stand for the rights of all people to practice their faiths in peace and in freedom and we will continue to stand against the ugly tide of anti-Semitism that rears its ugly head all too often.”

Given the current international climate, I’ll assume he’s talking about anti-Semitism in Europe, especially in France, rather than in the U.S. Oh…and Israel.

“I look forward to nominating our next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to help lead these efforts.”

The last person in this position, Suzan Johnson Cook, left to make more money. The search for a new ambassador-at-large has been going on for a while. Here are some likely candidates. Glad to see he hasn’t forgotten…

“Let us never forget those who are persecuted today, among them Americans of faith. We pray for Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary held in North Korea for 15 months, who was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor. The United States will continue to do all in its power to secure his release, because Kenneth Bae deserves to be free.

“We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini. He’s been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his Christian beliefs. As we continue to work for his freedom today, again we call on Iran’s government to release Pastor Abedini so that he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho.”

These are the two I expected him to mention. Given the speech’s international focus, he might have also highlighted some high-profile cases from this list, including Christian Asia Bibi imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges. A nod to Alexander Aan, the Indonesian atheist released from prison last week, might have added some optimism.

“As we pray for all prisoners of conscience, whatever their faiths and wherever they’re held, let’s imagine what it must be like for them. We may not know their names, but all around the world there are people waking up in cold cells, facing another day of confinement, another day of unspeakable treatment, simply because they are affirming God. Despite all they’ve endured, despite all the awful punishments, they will wait for that moment when the guards aren’t looking, when they can close their eyes and bring their hands together and pray. In those moments of peace and grace and moments when their faith is tested in those far away cells, I believe their unbroken souls are made stronger.”

Moving finale.


  1. Warrington MacElroy

    That is why I voted twice for Barack Obama. I share his values. I cannot fathom how any sane human being can possibly disagree with any of those statements and it is because I believe every one of them that I agree to disagree, agreeably with whomever they may be.

  2. So, did Barack Obama offer any prayers for that persecuted Christian wedding photographer in New Mexico? How about those bullied Christian bakery owners in Oregon?

    Or would such prayers anger those gay-activist bullies whom Obama is taking his orders from?

    • Abiding by the same obligations as anyone else, is not persecution. A person cannot discriminate against someone because they are Christian, just as a Christian or atheist cannot discriminate against someone who is gay. Anyway, I don’t know of an atheist, who would do that, but you can see my point. If you want to argue that you as a Christian should not be protected by laws against religious discrimination, then let’s talk. If not, then you just sound hypocritical.

      • Holly Williams

        You are wrong. They can and should discriminate so long as they are doing so in a justified manner. They believe that they are discriminating in a justified manner (and so do I) and they are also practicing their faith by doing so. Therefore, they should be allowed to continue to do so. By not allowing them to do so, their religious freedom is being violated. You can disagree all you want but the more you disagree, the more you will be wrong on this. If they are not allowed to practice this right then they are being persecuted by our own government just as Catholic businesses are being persecuted by refusing to provide health insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. If you don’t believe me, go to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website and look up information about the HHS Mandate. I am a devout Catholic and the USCCB held two Fortnight For Freedom events in these past two years because of this disgusting mandate which violates our religious freedom.

        • To put it mildly, that is a load of horsecrap. Not getting your way to run roughshod over laws of general application is not being persecuted. Its just being whiny. You are pretending your right to discriminate is a legitimate expression of religious exercise.

          Personal religious freedom ends where it does harm to others. Engaging in discriminatory behavior in business is considered harming others. It doesn’t matter whether you can create an excuse for your behavior, it is the act itself which has no sanction.

          The USCCB’s objection to contraception has everything to do with making alliances with conservative politicians than anything resembling a “personal stand”. Martyrdom is making one’s self suffer in service of one’s faith, not other people.

    • Being thwarted from trying to enact a religious based revival of Jim Crow behavior is hardly being persecuted. The only person defending bullying is yourself.

      Discriminatory behavior is harmful nonsense whether you are denying services and goods to someone because they are gay, muslim, Irish, redheaded, or whatever.

  3. The Right to believe in any particular God or Gods is FUNDAMENTAL to freedom itself. We would not be a free country without the right to religion.
    And that right stops when it infringes on someone’s right to NOT believe.

    The only time a president should use “GOD” in a speech is to express that precise sentiment.

    And having an “Ambassador to Religious Freedom” is ridiculous and dangerous.
    It will have the same awful effect on our freedom that “Homeland Security Chief” has had. Invasive, anti-democratic nonsense.

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