Obama calls for separation of church and state at National Prayer Breakfast

In a move that is sure to make right-wingers decide (again) that Obama is Muslim extremist out to destroy America, the president spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and called on religion to oppose violence and support decency and freedom.

“We see faith driving us to do right,” he said to more than 3,500 people attending the annual National Prayer Breakfast. “But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”

He urged believers of all faiths to practice humility, support church-state separation and adhere to the golden rule as ways to keep religion in its proper context.

Nothing like a National Prayer Breakfast, hosted by members of Congress and addressed by the President, to promote separation of church and state, eh?

To be fair, Obama had a few good things to say, like his open support for “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.”

Very pretty words. But he seems to be operating under a false assumption. “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.” It’s not a distortion. Religion is not a thing that exists in and of itself, apart from people. Religion exists because people create it, as a means of achieving their own ends, nihilistic or otherwise. To pretend that religion is some objective thing that people are distorting, is to fail to grasp the essential nature of religion, and to leave oneself with no way to explain all its variations and permutations and behaviors.

On the other hand, he also made some remarks that may be the most sensible things a leader has said so far on the topic of free speech and religion. ““If, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults,” he said, drawing applause, “and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities, who are the targets of such attacks.”

That’s the trick, actually. To protect free speech, you must allow people to say things that are offensive, and the appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech.

So yeah, a mixed bag. Pandering, pretty words, and just a bit of common sense. But honestly, why do we even have a National Prayer Breakfast?

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