This morning the 58th Annual National Prayer Breakfast was held in Washington, D.C. One of the keynote speakers was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Full text of speech.) Her remarks included some rather blunt criticism of the misuse of religion:
President Barack Obama also spoke at length at the National Prayer Breakfast. (Full text of remarks.) Spotlighting the American people's response to the recent earthquake in Haiti, he said:
All religions have their version of the Golden Rule and direct us to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger and visit the prisoner.... Yet across the world, we see organized religion standing in the way of faith, perverting love, undermining that message.
Sometimes it's easier to see that far away than here at home. But religion, cloaked in naked power lust, is used to justify horrific violence, attacks on homes, markets, schools, volleyball games, churches, mosques, synagogues, temples. From Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan to Nigeria and the Middle East, religion is used a club to deny the human rights of girls and women, from the Gulf to Africa to Asia, and to discriminate, even advocating the execution of gays and lesbians. Religion is used to enshrine in law intolerance of free expression and peaceful protest. Iran is now detaining and executing people under a new crime – waging war against God. It seems to be a rather dramatic identity crisis.
So in the Obama Administration, we are working to bridge religious divides. We’re taking on violations of human rights perpetrated in the name of religion. And we invite members of Congress and clergy and active citizens like all of you here to join us.... We are committed, not only to reaching out and speaking up about the perversion of religion, and in particularly the use of it to promote and justify terrorism, but also seeking to find common ground. We are working with Muslim nations to come up with an appropriate way of demonstrating criticism of religious intolerance without stepping over into the area of freedom of religion or non-religion and expression.
This is what we do, as Americans, in times of trouble. We unite, recognizing that such crises call on all of us to act, recognizing that there but for the grace of God go I, recognizing that life's most sacred responsibility -- one affirmed, as Hillary said, by all of the world's great religions -- is to sacrifice something of ourselves for a person in need.As urged by a number of people, Obama also spoke out against the harsh anti-gay legislation recently proposed in Uganda, reportedly at the urging of the same group that sponsored the Prayer Breakfast. (See prior posting.) The President said:
Sadly, though, that spirit is too often absent when tackling the long-term, but no less profound issues facing our country and the world. Too often, that spirit is missing without the spectacular tragedy ... that can shake us out of complacency. We become numb to the day-to-day crises, the slow-moving tragedies of children without food and men without shelter and families without health care. We become absorbed with our abstract arguments, our ideological disputes, our contests for power. And in this Tower of Babel, we lose the sound of God's voice.
We may disagree about the best way to reform our health care system, but surely we can agree that no one ought to go broke when they get sick in the richest nation on Earth. We can take different approaches to ending inequality, but surely we can agree on the need to lift our children out of ignorance; to lift our neighbors from poverty. We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are -- whether it's here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.