During his remarks at the traditional White House Iftar dinner, President Obama used the language of the Tea Party to defend religious freedom, and announce his support for the Ground Zero Mosque, “I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan.”
Obama first discussed freedom of religion, “Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose – including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious – a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in contrast to the religious conflict that persists around the globe.”
He then brought up the sensitivity of Ground Zero, and 9/11, “That is not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities – particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.”
The President then announced his support for the mosque and community center, “But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.”
Obama brought up the point that innocent Muslims also died on 9/11, “We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who have led our response to that attack – from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us always remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no freedom of religion. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam – it is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders – these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion – and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.”
The President said our values and freedoms should not be compromised, “That is who we are fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms – it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race or religion; wealth or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us – a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.”
He concluded this portion of his speech with a call for unity, “In my inaugural address, I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. That diversity can bring difficult debates. Indeed, past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be – and will be – today.”
Once again, Obama used the beliefs of the Founders Fathers against those, like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Fox News, and the Tea Party who wrap themselves in the language of freedom while attempting to deprive others of their freedoms. America still may not be used to it after eight years of the evangelical presidency of George W. Bush, but Obama’s speech is an example of how a president is supposed to behave. Obama did not take an oath to protect the freedoms of some Americans. It is his duty to protect the freedoms of all Americans.
His speech also offered a preview of the contrast that awaits the American people in 2012. Expect the Republicans to continue to try to divide America by appealing to the darker elements of our political psyche, while Obama will continue to paint his vision of a more unified America striving to good, true to our values, and strong. The contrast between the two visions of what America could be is stark, and the Ground Zero Mosque debate is just a sneak preview of the moral contest for America’s soul that is coming two years from now.