When Barack Met Francis

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

It was the strangest of exchanges, the prepared remarks of President Obama and Pope Francis on the South Lawn of the White House.

One man referenced Scripture and the Good News; he highlighted the ministry of the Catholic church to the homeless and poor, spoke about the persecution of believers around the world, and called for the defense of religious freedom. The other man, after the usual salutations, made a passing reference to religious liberty, and then spent the rest of his podium time talking about environmental emissions and climate change.

If you think the former was the pontiff and the latter the president, you would be wrong. It was if, after shaking hands, the leader of the free world and the spiritual leader of 1 billion Catholics swapped speaking notes.

What the president said

“Here in the United States,” the president assured Francis, “we cherish religious liberty. . . . We stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and intimidation.”

I wonder what Kim Davis would say about that? Or the photographer who declined to shoot a same-sex wedding and was told by a federal judge that ignoring one’s religious beliefs is “the price of citizenship?” Or the Little Sisters of the Poor who, along with over 100 other religious groups and institutions, are embroiled in a legal battle over the Affordable Care Act, with its requirements to provide insurance for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs against their religious beliefs? Or an administration that has been busily advancing the president’s “freedom of worship” rhetoric with dozens of actions, including the following:

  • Supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that interferes with the right of religious employers to choose their employees. 
  • Arguing, in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOCthat the government can interfere in decisions about who can serve as a minister in religious organizations and churches.
  • Overturning HHS conscience exemptions for healthcare workers opposed to participating in abortions and other activities against their religious convictions. 
  • Repealing the military “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy with no conscience exceptions for military chaplains.
  • Revoking a grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for combating sex trafficking because of their objections to abortion. 

The president also acknowledged that “around the world at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith.”

Including Christians? The world’s oldest Christian communities in the very cradle of the faith are disappearing at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Many of the atrocities committed by ISIS and other jihadist groups involve Christians, and only Christians, as in the one claiming the lives of 140 Christian college students in Kenya.

In sentiments that could have issued from the lips of the late Mother Teresa, Obama spoke of our duty to care for the “least of these” and the “powerless and defenseless.” However, the least of the least and the most powerless, defenseless, and voiceless of all are the unborn, a people group that has received little concern or compassion from the current administration.

In whole, the speech was downright Orwellian, as if it were the work of some Minister of Information intent on papering over seven years of history with 1000 words of rhetoric. The president then turned the podium over to Pope Francis. Read more.

Originally published October 16, 2015.

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