President Barack Obama called Thursday for religious humility and dogged protection of the separation between church and state, as he condemned “fierce certainty” that can lead to religious oppression and violence.
Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, the president urged religious leaders and lawmakers to guard against intolerance and protect religious freedom. He called out the Muslim extremist group Islamic State but stressed that no faith is immune from “those who seek to hijack religion for their own murderous acts.”
“It is not unique to one group or one religion,” he said, citing the Crusades, slavery and Jim Crow laws as oppression once justified by Christians. “There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency, that can pervert and distort our faith.”
Obama made his remarks at the 63rd annual breakfast, a gathering of lawmakers, religious leaders and other officials.
Among those in the audience was the Dalai Lama. As pro-Tibet protesters gathered outside the hotel ballroom, Obama greeted the Tibetan monk and activist as a “good friend.” The Dalai Lama’s attendance inevitably raised unwanted but familiar tensions with the Chinese, who consider him to be a separatist agitator for his opposition to China’s control of Tibet.