Obama evokes church/state divide at National Prayer Breakfast

February 5, 2009

Religion’s role in U.S. politics was on full display on Thursday as President Barack Obama spoke and prayed at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Obama, an adult convert to Christianity, used the occasion to announce that he will be establishing a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This will replace or be an extension of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives established by former President George W. Bush, who was strongly supported by conservative Christians.

Some of Obama’s remarks about the new office are sure to raise eyebrows in those conservative Christian circles. For example:

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups.  It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.”

For many conservative U.S. Christians, it is an article of faith that the founding fathers in the late 18th century did not erect a wall to separate church and state.  Many religious and secular liberals contest that view, making it one of America’s never-ending culture war battles.

Obama also let it be known that while he is a Christian he is not about to favor one religious group over another. In his prepared remarks, he said:

Jesus told us to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’ The Torah commands, ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.’  In Islam, there is a hadith that reads ‘None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.’  And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists.  It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.”

Americans may debate the walls between their church and state; but there is little doubt that religion and U.S. politics are often joined at the hip.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing (President Obama speaks at National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Feb 5, 2009)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Outstanding talk. President Obama, like Moses, like Martin King, like Mother Theresa is a Christ-like figure. When I was in seminary (a late career change in life from the United Nations) I decided to research the Golden Rule. While I was never able to discover its origins, I was amazed to learn that every major religious tradition I looked into had a version of the Golden Rule.

Separation of Church and State is an admirable notion for a multicultural country and world. Living out the Golden Rule serves to make us all a critical part of human society; our communities into habitats. The Golden Rule makes us all into Christ-like (God-like, Divine-like) members of the human community.

–Rev. Philip Lythcott.

Posted by Rev. Philip Lythcott | Report as abusive

“…an adult convert to Christianity?” So what was he before? I think we all know what he was and is.

Posted by Joyce Buckley | Report as abusive

To be good between people is also our belief in living in the earthly as my family is Christian too.

Posted by Wang Xu | Report as abusive

Obama is a user. Anything he may have said at a prayer breakfast was scripted propaganda designed to make himself look good. The real Obama is GD America. Obama has no credibility in any matter concerning faith.

Posted by Lyn | Report as abusive

eric what in earth is this guy talking about, could you interpret this for me.is it some thing to do with the devinchy code?rev phil, he has been to seminary as well,could you both are on the same astral plane?.i work in hollywood i don,t hear stuff like this even there.like i said, a lot of this stuff can be traced back to woodstock.going back to the purpose of the original posting ,obama was very sincere and i think it was a meaningful speech ,incidentally i have to include this last piece to try to get this past the censor.yes please give me an interpretation,eric, but please don,t get to mystical,

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Joyce, why are you so coy about saying what you think Obama was before he became a Christian? Why don’t you just tell us straight out? Maybe because you don’t have any proof?

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Some of you suggest that Obama was and is a muslim. Frankly, I hope so, being a muslim myself I know that I can trust a muslim. Allahu Akbar

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

“The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.” – Abraham Lincoln

“The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” – John Adams

“Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man…” – Thomas Jefferson

A U.S. president who believes in an ancient book of Jewish fairy tales. How reassuring…

Posted by Concerned citizen | Report as abusive

Alex, many evangelical Christians thought they could trust George Bush because he was evangelical, and quite a few were disappointed by him. A lot of Jews trusted Bernard Madoff with their money, at least partly because he was a fellow Jew, and they got wiped out financially. With that in mind, can you really think you can trust a politician just because he’s a Muslim like you?

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I hope Obama will practice what he preaches. So far It doesn’t look so good.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

The Borgen Project has some good info on the cost of addressing global poverty.

$30 billion: Annual shortfall to end world hunger.
$550 billion: U.S. Defense budget

Posted by Abel Tsegga | Report as abusive

Great thoughts on what makes each of us more alike then different. Where can I get a full copy of his speech?

Posted by Len Pratt | Report as abusive

The speech was brilliant and brave–I could hardly believe that I was actually listening to a U.S. President discuss the relationship between faith and culture in such an honest and open manner. I know those who openly advocate a theocracy won’t be pleased, but I’m delighted! State sanctioned religion has no place in American society. Bravo, Mr. President!!

Posted by Fairfax | Report as abusive

I like to share you with all that Mr. Obama is not a Muslim.Here a person become a Muslim.
The Shahada (Arabic: ??????? aš-šah?da, from the verb šahida “to testify”) is the first step to come in the fold of Islam. It is main foundation of Islam. It is a declaration of the oneness of God (Allah) and acceptance of Muhammad as His final messenger and perfect servant. The Shahada is the core concept of Islam. The evidence for this claim is the authentic hadith narrated by ibn Umar (RD)”: The messenger of Allah (SWT) said”: “Islam is based on five (pillars) (First) to testify that there is nothing worthy of worship except only one God (Allah (SWT) and Messenger Muhammad is His final messenger and perfect servant”
???? ?? ?? ??? ????? ???? ? ???? ?? ????  ???? ????
When a person declares the Shahada that person pledges a covenant with Allah (SWT) and intentionally comes in the fold of Islam.

Posted by Shahin | Report as abusive

President Obama? A zealous and extreme pro abortion President talking “to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.”? Is that him? Indeed, this President notwithstanding the fact that he is a lawyer doesn’t understand the inherent right of every human being to live and such right cannot be waived by anyone, not even the concerned person himself.

Separation of Church and State? What do he mean by that? That the Church cannot object to any decisions which are contrary to public morals? Does he intend to silence the church? huh! This is a grand deception! He is trying to condition the minds of the people so that he can restrain various religions especially the Catholic Church who is against same sex marriage and abortion. He will not allow the Church to air their objections and bring their faith to the public square.

Posted by Daniel Rosaupan | Report as abusive

I think it is cruel for people to use GOD to promote themselves and spread false hopes. Sorry guys and gals, the truth is that there is No God. So, no need to pretend Mr. president whether you are a muslim, christian or whatever. Bravooo for the insincere speech as we all know it is business in politics as usual.

Posted by Gary Kupal | Report as abusive

What about Jesus’s saying love your enemy as well and what about moses’s ten commandments beleiving in true almighty than other figures we call god . And what about a saying in Quran which says if you kill a man its like killing the humanity and saving one’s life is like saving the whole humanity and in hinduism and buddhism which say the same message . We should fight the dogma’s surrounding our spiritual quest , which one proclaiming true way over the other, I just have one thing to add.

The less reasonable a cult is, the more men seek to establish it by force.

In this case i think the US and its allies in west or east are doing .

Posted by Ismail | Report as abusive

BUILD UP THE WALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Anil Dave | Report as abusive

Brian, bottom line, we are all humans and the central message of all world religions is treat others as you would like to be treated. Organized religion is to blame for wars from the time of The Crusades right up to the present day conflict in Gaza. I don’t think that this is what God, Allah, Budda etc..etc had in mind. I personally feel that faith is a private thing and it is wrong to try and impose your views on others. I also feel that claiming that your (not you personally) religion is the one true faith is arrogant and prideful, something warned against in all religions. Unity and peace should be message not division and hatred. Just to be clear I did not attend seminary, I minored in theology in college. While I do have the title Rev. I don’t preach or run a church although the tax free status is tempting ; ). I got a quickie ordination so I could perform a marriage ceremony for some friends, so while not formerly trained I am legally a Rev.

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

It is individual Conscience that can unite us all–across all religious dictates.

You call it The Golden Rule. I define it as Conscience that all human beings need to acknowledge if they consider themselves as part of Humanity.

Groups that call human beings “cockroaches to be squashed under their feet” as the zionists do in israel, or enslave others, or actively plan and work to commit genocide on human beings because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs all display lack of Conscience just as almost all sociopaths do.

Posted by Sofia | Report as abusive

Eric, I completely agree – understanding or negotiation or diplomacy between religions or religious views, whether secular or non-secular over initiatives or duties to achieve a common goal of achieving equality in society is a Noble pursuit.

Also to the person who asked – what was he before a Christian??? A human being who developed a mind and a heart before being told how to think and love. What were you???

Posted by Wendy | Report as abusive

I’m a Christian, and I do not understand how Christians can say one thing and do another. Love thy Neighbor means all your neighbors…..not just the ones who agree with you. I’m not sure when prayer was actually allowed in public schools, for instance; I’m a Baby Boomer and I have no recollection of religion in my schools at all….unless you include the Christmas show. Inserting “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance was a very new thing for us….and we tripped up and forgot a lot. I had a religious service at graduation….but it was held at a church and was completely optional. It had nothing to do with the regular graduation ceremony. How did we Christians get so high and mighty? Jesus was a Jew, remember? How’s that for an answer to “What was he before he was a Christian?”

Posted by Karin | Report as abusive

Americans desperately needs Obama to state clearly time and time again that our land does not belong to Christians alone. It is a land of many faiths, many cultures, many opinions.

Bush pushed our nation into a vice of right wing Christian conservatism pushing our nation to extremes. He created an America where you either believed the “Bush way” or you were wrong. That is not the America that leads the world to do good for all peoples.

Posted by susan lewis | Report as abusive

Its a pity he couldn’t have taken time off playing golf and holidaying, to utter one word ‘STOP’ to try to save the lives of 1,300 civilians in Gaza. I note that Obama’s Foreign Secretary Hilary Clinton still re-iterated the stale statement, during Milliband’s recent visit, that ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, no comment on the sanctity of life, peculiar to most religions, or the International Laws on ‘Proportion’ and protection of cililian infrasructure. Most world Religions were devised as a means of guidance towards a humanitarianism differentiating between right and wrong. However as far as the US is conerned Israel can do no wrong and they can see nor hear any wrongs which Israel does. So much for the Religiousity of the US Politicians

Posted by marjory hay | Report as abusive

Tony Blair introduced Obama at this event! The most basic value of most religions is being able to differentiate the TRUTH FROM LIES!Allegedly Tony Blair is the Arch Lier of our time who took Britain into an illegal war on the basis of his lies over WMD in Iraq and allegedly wrote Goldsmith’s Legal Opinion on the legality of the war himself. Most detestable to the religious British people the Quartet then made this alleged War Criminal their representative of Peace in the Middle East.

Posted by marjory hay | Report as abusive

Lots of interesting, mostly intelligent comments on this thread. The one thing I would point out is, the most hateful posts were written by the most religious people.

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

To Ismail– the quote you mentioned: “if you kill a man its like killing the humanity and saving one’s life is like saving the whole humanity” is from the Talmud (Jewish) not the Koran.

Posted by Anita | Report as abusive

For those readers who would like to consider yourselves so enlightened–I am suprised at the lack of tolerance shown to Christians or to Jews in this forum. Most of the comments made here tend to be derogatory, which I find completely hypocritical, when most of the posts are made by people demanding fair treatment of other religions.
I get the feeling that it is okay to bash Christians and Jews but not Moslems, Hindus, Buddhist, etc… In other words everyone is not created equally…
Puzzling and disturbing.

Posted by Ana | Report as abusive

If only the title of the article had been, “Obama evokes Golden Rule at National Prayer Breakfast.” Why not? The media prefers to “evoke” what divides us over what unites us. Mr. Obama emphasized that the golden rule is a universal concept. His comment on church and state was minor in comparison; yet, this article made it the centerpiece.

Posted by Thomas | Report as abusive

[…] “Obama evokes church/state divide at National Prayer Breakfast,” Ed Stoddard, Reuters (February 5, 2009) […]

Posted by The Frog in Hot Water » Daily Buzz | Report as abusive

It is very exciting that many of us open a door to have a discussion that is a great path. The discussion free the mind and thought by an expression. It reveal the personal point of you view and promote sense of understanding.
I am delighted to see this kind of open talk. I wish every good and tasty life. I like to mention that it is a individual intellectual capacity to know his or her creator. It is impossible to make some one recognize the creator. Historically, It is natural instinct for man to not to recognize his creator because man is proud of all. He does not like to submit but he like to do as he wish.

Posted by Shahin | Report as abusive

Shahin, I thin one of man’s instinct is to become like God. In the Bible, this was used by Satan in the form of serpent to tempt Adam & Eve.

Do not be mislead with Obama’s path to dialogue for this President is closed minded. All he wanna do is to convince all religions that same sex marriage and abortion, contracepcion, embryonic stem cells are acceptable. In fact, some of these are included in his economic stimulus plan which if we will just use our common sense, these items have no economic relevance. He want to impose an Anti Christ government whose laws are anti Christians such as those I mentioned above. He is wearing in sheep’s clothing but inside he is a ravenous wolf ready to devour you.

Posted by Daniel Rosaupan | Report as abusive

thanks eric for the interpretation,we walk different paths ,and we are at different crossroads in our lives ,but this life is a journey make no mistake.i tell people i have a long way to go but i have come a long way,i hate to admit this, but i don,t know if you realize that half the time i am just trying to wind you up,it is the irish part of me we have a satirical sense of humour.anyway enough of that, one caution,when i hear someone saying that his faith is a private thing,that speaks volumes to me,because if you have the “genuine” article it is impossible not to testify to it.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

All religions should be treated and respected by all means. It is only when we learn to respect another religion will your own religion will be shown due respect. Youth these days move away from religion becasue there more DON’Ts than DO’s. Religion is important / essential to mankind to instil moral values in living.

Posted by T.Singh Dain | Report as abusive

No matter what President Obama says some would never be satisfied while others would claim this quote is from “their” holy book and not from “your’s.” We nust give credit to Obama for his courage to acknowdge all faiths for their positive outlook and contribution to humanity. No other presidenr dared to do that. Obama’s reference to a hathis of Prophet Muhammad is admirable. Be he be a Christian or a Buddist does not matter so long people of all faiths can feel proud to be Americans.

Posted by Mohammad Zaheer | Report as abusive

Brian, we are probably closer on some views than either would like to admit and that’s the point right? We’re never going to get out of this mess or in fact get along with the rest of the world until we reach some type of unity in this country. Of course I realize that you and others post these things to wind others up, not lost on a fellow partial mick like myself. Dialog is the only way to hash out and settle differences.
Testify all you want just leave me out of it. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion right?

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

One must not fail to remember that the first U.S. settlers were fleeing Christian RELIGIOUS persecution.

Posted by prof. k. | Report as abusive

In Britain and throughout most of the developed world we tend to mistrust politicians who talk about God.

From that p.o.v. this whole occasion was rather frightening apart from the mutual ego greasiong between The Obamessiah and Tony Blair whch was just nauseating.

Religion is the cause of most of our problems not the solution to them.

Posted by Ian Thorpe | Report as abusive

yes let freedom ring eric but only if it is ringing to announce this return of the fairness act.have you signed the partition to get rush of the air?

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Mr. Obama is not a Christian as he believes there are many ways to God other than Jesus Christ thus he is a fraud. His abortion stance is further evidence of that. Anything he says will be met with a skepical ear from many of us who claim Christ as Lord of our life.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

I must admit and confess that, like Socrates, I know nothing about such matters. I suppose that, if I did, I would understand why someone would judge and condemn President Obama for suggesting that, following the command of our Lord, we are to love our neighbors, even when that love means respecting other people even when they do not agree with our particular beliefs, convictions, and commitments, even when that love means respecting other people when they understand important issues about critical matters differently from the way I understand these issues. As for me, I must admit my ignorance about such matters. I guess I don’t quite understand how the LORD intended for us to obey the command, or warning. to judge not that we be not judged. I apologize for so many apparently frivolous words, since I have nothing of great substance to add here. I would like to express appreciation to the moderators and others who may read this scribble for your kind indulgence. Thank you for the article that prompted my ruminations. Perhaps with information such as this article provides, one day I will hope to understand.

Posted by Wes | Report as abusive

Mr.Obama observed long ago political ambitions cannot be realized in this country unless you are Christian, married and have children. Secondly, appearances and image trump integrity and substance. I hope I do not sound overly critical of the man I voted for. To be a successful leader, one must win the support of all of the people. Ergo, be all things to all people. Gaius Julius was criticized by some and praised by others for the same approach.

I would submit political leaders are part sociopath, charming and manipulating their way through power. Precisely because most of us have a wallet mentality rather than a greater good outlook, we are divided leaving us with only sycophants or liars to survive the trials of nomination.

Perhaps many of the commentators are correct. We love our god but follow not his commands. Is it hypocrisy or denial? I sometimes wonder, is our god really green? Lately we all watch the stock market, banks, corporations and governments collapse with horror, anger or disbelief. Almost as if someone told us that there is no god. Have we put all of our faith in institutions of our making and the charlatans who run them?

Psychologists have long debated whether or not religious thinking fills a deep seated human psychological need or is simply a thought disorder. I don’t know. I do know humans need potable water, the ability to a acquire food, clothing and shelter. I also know as a society we have ignored the consequences of our actions that has landed us amidst these crisis’ we endure. Have we been blinded by our religion of economics and politics?

For civilization to survive we must sacrifice, find common ground, and the ability to abandon our sacred cows. To do this we must find in ourselves a genuine affection for our fellow man in order that we may unite and exercise reason and logic. I do not believe any or all of the world’s religions present and past can help us to achieve this conscious state.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

This is stupid





Posted by ChrisThomas89 | Report as abusive

While I am NOT a “churchgoer” (if that is what they
are called) and likely will NEVER become one —
I do feel a strong need to note that the phrase of
“separation of church and state” is NOT found
ANYWHERE at all WITHIN ‘THE American
CONSTITUTION’ (or ANY of its Amendments).

The Phrase of “Separation of Church and
State” is a statement that was taken out
of ‘The Federalist Papers’ (which, by the
way, are NOT the governing documents
of the United States of America) — and it
was actually based on a Biblical teaching
of Jesus Christ in His statement about
“rendering” (i.e. “separating”) things
unto ‘Caesar’ (i.e. the government)
that belong to ‘Caesar’ and things
unto ‘God’ (i.e. “religion”)
that belong unto ‘God’.)]

In today’s modern world, the phrase of
“Separation of Church and State” has
now become an over-used statement
that’s more akin to a worn-out cliché
that’s preferred by uninformed people who …

1) are unaware that ‘European History and
Eurocentric Viewpoints” simply do NOT
represent every group on the planet.

[i.e. Everyone on the planet has NOT experienced
being “Persecuted” by ‘The Church’ of Europe — but
rather — some of the rest of us have been (and are yet
still being) “persecuted” by ‘the mosque’, ‘the temple’,
etc. systems — that are found elsewhere on earth and
everything does NOT revolve around the history,
viewpoints and experiences of the Europeans.]

2) by “SINGLING OUT” the so-called “church”
(rather than by simply using a more generic, neutral
and, dare I to even say, a more culturally-inclusive
phrase such as that of “Religion”) — it REVEALS
(especially to anyone who is a not a “christian)
that one is quite solely, specifically, and directly
‘TARGETING’ the ‘Christian’ faith for “separation”
— and THAT is a form of DOUBLE-STANDARD
and HYPOCRITICAL BIGOTRY that rivals that
of the radical “religious right” found worldwide.

3) by “SINGLING OUT” the so-called “church” for
“separation” — it opens the door for non-christian
religions to add their religious practices into the
American government system by using the simple
“recant” of “we are not part of “the church” and thus,
you cannot target us for “separation” from ‘the state’”.

As a result of this convenient ‘”recant”, many American
public schools and government offices have now found
themselves being required to add “religious” symbols
(ex. ‘muslim prayer rooms’) due to the ‘convenient’ fact
that they are not associated as being ‘church’-related.

This is just one of the many reasons that I feel that
certain Americans really need to understand that —
their action of singling-out ‘a symbol’ (the “church”)
of a specific religious group (‘christianity’) for being
THE specific ‘Target’ of “Separation” (much to the
exclusion of the many other religious groups found
in the nation) —- 1) comes across to many people
as being BOTH an overbearing attempt to try to
enforce a “freedom” FROM religion AND also as
a type of “persecution” (if I dare say) against that
specific religious faith, practice and teaching AND
2) it also leads to many of the non-‘church’ religious
groups feeling as if they have a ‘loophole’ in which
they can force their practices onto the government
(i.e. “we are NOT ‘a church’, so we CAN do this”).

Currently, in parts of Europe, the Muslim faith is THE
specific TARGET of secularization — and in America,
clearly the Christian faith is THE TARGET of the same.

Sadly, all of this TARGETING (against specific religious
groups and teachings) is being done “in the name of our
secular freedom” (just as in the past, ‘secular freedom’
was targeted by some religions “in the name of God and
holiness”); it makes the TARGETED group look and feel
as if they are being “persecuted”; and, it is simply leads
to a hatred and contempt for the targeted religious group
(which can lead to ‘reactionary-radicalization’ and / or
even a sympathy-led “push” for “privileged treatment”).

So how about … if we all just PLEASE try to STOP using
the overworn, worn-out, clichéd (and dare I to even say
BIGOTED) phrase of “Separation of Church and State”
— and let’s all try to, instead, use a more inclusive
(and less “targeted” or “biased”) phrase such as

Seriously, I feel we should all work together in order
to learn how to STOP THE religious-TARGETING;
to neutralize the terms; to let people practice as
they belive; to keep RELIGION and GOVERNMENT
(and NOT JUST ‘church’ and ‘state’) separate; and
let everyone live and let live — without ANY group
being hassled and / or specifically singled-out.

Posted by APGifts | Report as abusive