Religious Liberty at BreakfastFebruary 06, 2014
Today was the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual religious-political tradition that shows how the continuing power of confessional politics
(you can watch it here). Dating back to 1953, it is sponsored by a secretive, controversial group known as "The Family" (see post here). The gathering, which brings together U.S. politicians, world officials, and celebrity personalities. The event serves as an annual reminder that both Republican and Democratic politicians use confessional politics. Among those speaking, reading scripture, or praying at this year's breakfast: Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Representative Eliot Engel (D-New York), Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Representative Janice Hahn (D-California), and Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi). Although purportedly bipartisan, the event has leaned quite to the right the last two years with conservative activists giving the keynote speeches (Eric Metaxas in 2012 and Ben Carson in 2013). Both used their speech to build their conservative political reputations and have been hitting the anti-Obama political circuit since then. This year, however, the keynote speaker was Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), who spoke about defeating global poverty. Shah, who is Hindu, brought a stronger interfaith focus to the event, but he centered his anti-poverty remarks around Jesus. While organizers of the event like to claim it is just spiritual, the event clearly remains political (even if not always partisan).
President Barack Obama spoke at today's event as he has each year of his presidency. As in the past, he offered an explicit confession of his faith in Jesus. He focused most of his remarks on the need for international religious liberty. Here are a few highlights:
Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion. And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth. ... Today, we profess the principles we know to be true. We believe that each of us is "wonderfully made" in the image of God. We, therefore, believe in the inherent dignity of every human being -- dignity that no earthly power can take away. And 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. ... So promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.Obama correctly noted that religious liberty made religion stronger in the U.S. (which was James Madison's argument) and appropriately makes it a top international policy goal. He noted situations in several countries to justify the need to continue to promoting religious liberty rights, including Central African Republic, China, Burma, Nigeria, Sudan/South Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and North Korea. Hopefully more efforts will be made to promote religious liberty for all.