President Obama used the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday as an opportunity to remind religious leaders that radical Islamists are not the only group in history to enact violence in the name of religion. Citing Jim Crow laws and the Crusades, Obama specifically directed his remarks to Christianity, which he suggested had its own extremists too.
In his remarks on religious extremism, the president said that though religion can be a source for good, adherents of all faiths have at times been willing to “hijack religion” to rationalize “their own murderous ends.” To illustrate his point, Obama pointed to past abuses of Christianity:
Unless we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and 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.
So it is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a simple tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.
Obama instructed religious leaders that we need to be humble about our respective faiths and not assume “God speaks only to us and doesn’t speak to others.”
Regarding freedom of speech, the president provided an equivocal statement. Though he said there was a “connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” Obama declared that “infring[ing] on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal both.”
…in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment. And 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— (applause) —and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks. Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.
This article has been updated.