Thursday, April 03, 2014
It's a concern among many religious conservatives: the trampling on of religious liberty here in the United States. So much so that a spate of laws are springing up across the country to protect the fundamental right to freedom of religious expression.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is set to sign a bill designed to protect religious freedom in the Magnolia State passed by the legislature earlier this week. Similar bills have sparked controversy elsewhere. (Think Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer's ultimate and dramatic veto late February.)
Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving Hobby Lobby stores and its challenge to the contraception mandate in Pres. Obama's signature health care law, Obamacare. Critics decry the mandate as an assault against religious liberty.
Such was the theme of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's recent speech at Liberty University.
He used the contraception mandate and the IRS's targeting of conservative non-profit groups as examples of the current erosion of religious liberty.
"These are troubled times. And religious liberty - the very first liberty in the bill of rights, the very first protection we have - has never been more imperiled than it is right now," Cruz said.
The potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate challenged the students to boldly fight for their fundamental freedoms.
"As believers, we are called to action," he implored. "Not to sitting quietly and hiding our faith under a bushel, but to stand and speak no matter what the consequence."
** Click here to watch Sen. Cruz's entire speech **
Cruz took the opportunity to cite examples of his own stand to defend religious liberty when he served as Texas's solicitor general.
While others out there might disagree with the premise, it should be more than clear that this is a very real and important issue among religious conservatives, particularly Evangelical Christians.
Take, for example, the case of Robin Frazier. She's a local commissioner in Carroll County, Md., and is at the center of a conflict that could land her in jail.
Frazier found herself on the receiving end of a court-ordered injunction that forbade the commission's opening prayers to include references to any deities linked to specific religions.
Frazier had been singled out for prayers in which she invoked the name of Jesus.
One day after the injunction, she wouldn't back down, declaring that she was willing to go to jail over her right to pray.
"This is an infringement on my First Amendment rights of free speech, and I think it is a wrong ruling," she said before the commission meeting.
However, instead of offering her own prayer, she recited one found in George Washington's personal prayer journal, saying "Let thy blessings guide this day and forever, through Jesus Christ."
It's the Beltway Buzz's position that America has taken a major detour (or perhaps a U-turn), if a prayer from one of America's preeminent founding fathers isn't seen as acceptable today.
However Frazier's case plays out will be a pretty good indication of whether there really is a war against religious liberty.
Friday, March 21, 2014
This weekend marks four years since the president signed the Affordable Care Act into law and time has done little to lessen the controversy surrounding the massive new health insurance system.
As the president watches the clock wind down on open enrollment, his administration is moving into a full court press in the White House's own version of March Madness.
The play is to win over as many young people as possible. After appearing on the Internet show "Between Two Ferns" with actor Zach Galifianakis where he was subjected to questions like, "how does it feel to be the last black president?" Mr. Obama has also appeared on "The Ellen Degeneres Show," called into pop music and sports radio shows, appealed to mothers and highlighted the frequency of sports injuries all in an effort to encourage more young people to sign up.
As the March 31 deadline approaches the administration is still well short of its revised goal of 6 million registrants in the first year. However, perhaps more important than the total number of registrants, for Obamacare to work, it needs more healthy young people to pay for the disproportionate number of sick and older people who've already signed up.
Without them the new system bleeds money. The administration has said it needs 40 percent of registrants to be young adults and so far, only about 25 percent of the people who've signed up fit the bill.
When the buzzer sounds, will the Obama administration meet its goal or will critics of the Affordable Care Act get to say "I told ya so?"
Friday, February 28, 2014
At the White House this week, I had the pleasure of meeting three young men who participate in the Chicago based B.A.M. program. B.A.M stands for Becoming A Man. It's sad, even sick, that such programs are needed, but they are, desperately.
Boys without dads in the home are more likely to be poor and fail at school and if you're African American, there's a one in two chance you grew up without a father. If you're Latino there's a one in four chance.
Black students are far less likely than white students to be able to read proficiently by the time they get out of elementary school which leads to academic and discipline problems in high school and ends in prison for far too many men.
Chances are you've heard all this before or, at least, aren't surprised by the odds. President Obama says we've become numb to the statistics and I agree. However, we have to realize that as Americans, the reality about minority men makes us weaker, and as Christians we have a responsibility to do a better job of keeping our brothers.
Using his historic presidency and the power of his office, President Obama is launching "My Brother's Keeper", an initiative to encourage more programs like B.A.M. that keep black and Latino men on track by helping them mature emotionally, set worthwhile goals and respect women. Instead of tax dollars, "My Brother's Keeper" is relying on hundreds of millions of private foundation dollars. In the coming years programs will be tested to see what works and what doesn't. However, I encourage each of us to act now. Instead of waiting for the analysis or finding comfort in the fact that someone else is doing something we all should act.
In talking to the young men participating in B.A.M. both the shame and void that comes with not having a dad around was immediately apparent. It was also clear that the attention and guidance the men have received from B.A.M. has literally changed the trajectory of their lives. They have more self control and confidence which allows the people in their lives to receive them differently and that sets up expectations of success. And, of course, having the president of the United States truly understand at least some of their circumstances and make a public cry for their aide gives them pride.
While announcing, "My Brother's Keeper" the president said things that even his critics can appreciate.
"Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative is "no excuses." Government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities -- we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need; we've got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience. That's what we're here for. But you've got responsibilities, too."
He went on to say, "We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, the chance to reach their full potential. Because if we do -- if we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers, and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens -- then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass on those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren, will start a different cycle. And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come."
The most moving part of the program came at the end. President Obama shook hands with all of the young men who were standing behind him. When he extended his hand to the second row, one of the young men leaned in, buried his head in the president's shoulder and gave him a long hug. We all need hugs, especially boys without dads.
Please watch what some of the young men participating in B.A.M. had to say in my story that aired on the 700 Club.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Make no mistake. There will be no "grand bargain" or "great compromise" between President Obama and congressional Republicans.
As if we needed further proof, the president has withdrawn a prior offer to trim cost-of-living increases in Social Security and other benefits.
The proposal was made to sway Republican leaders to consider his long-term plan to reduce the federal debt and deficit spending.
The Associated Press reports, "the decision amounts to a White House acknowledgement that Obama has been unable to conclude a 'grand budget bargain' with GOP leaders, even by proposing a benefit reduction embraced by Republicans and opposed by many in his own party."
The problem is he began with a non-starter. Republicans never were going to agree to Obama's calls for higher taxes, which Obama wanted to accompany the proposed cuts.
Considering how far the White House and Congress have been able to go on debt-reduction, is it any wonder why Americans should not hold their breath for Washington to break out of gridlock?
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
President Obama weighed in on international policy during a press conference with french President Francois Hollande, who is in town for an official state visit.
Mr. Obama acknowledged Syrian peace talks are far from reaching their goal, calling the ordeal "enormously frustrating". Several times he called out Russia and Iran for supporting the Assad regime.
France joins the U.S. In working to negotiate a final nuclear deal with Iran and has become a strong military ally after disagreements a decade ago over the U.S. led war in Iraq.
However, the Obama administration has objected to the interest French businesses have show in Iran since sanctions against the Islamic regime were eased. This is what Obama says American businesses can expect should they go around sanctions to do business with Tehran.
"And so businesses may be exploring… are there some possibilities to get in sooner rather than later if and when there is an actual agreement to be had. But I can tell you they do so at their own peril right now because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks.
With respect to the sanctions we control and we expect full compliance with respect to the P5+1 during this interim. We don't want new sanctions because the ones we have are already squeezing Iran and brought them to the table.
But we also want to send a message to the Iranians that if they don't resolve this broader issue of their nuclear program there will be consequences and that the sanctions regime not only will stay in place but that it will likely be tightened in the event that these talks fail."
Thursday, February 06, 2014
"Even as our faith sustains us, it’s also clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat," said President Obama at Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast. The Commander in Chief focused his remarks on religious freedom and the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities abroad. Watch my story to see the president specifically call for the release of Christian Missionary Kenneth Bae and Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini.
Here are the president's full remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please, everyone have a seat. Giving all praise and honor to God, who brought us here this morning.
Thank you so much for our two outstanding co-chairs, Louie and Jan. And I have to say, I would have enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the two of these folks getting this breakfast organized this morning. (Laughter.) But there does seem to be that sibling thing a little bit, Louie. (Laughter.) They love each other, but they’ve got to go at each other a little bit. I, by the way, have always found Louie to be unbelievably gracious every time I’ve seen him. Now, I don’t watch TV, I’ve got to admit. (Laughter.) But he is a good man and a great storyteller, and Janice was just reminding me the first time we saw each other was at one of my first events when I first ran for office.
It’s wonderful to see all of the dignitaries and friends who are here today. To the Presidents, and Prime Ministers, the leaders of business and the nonprofit community; to my incredible friend and Vice President, Joe Biden; to my Cabinet members who are here and members of the administration who do such great work every single day; to my fellow Hawaiian, it is wonderful to see you. I should tell you that my surfing is not that good. (Laughter.) I just want to be clear. But my bodysurfing is pretty good.
SENATOR HIRONO: Bodysurfing is fun. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It is. (Laughter.) And to Raj Shah, who is just such an incredible young leader and is out there every single day, I could not be more proud of his outstanding leadership at USAID. And it’s a good reminder -- (applause) -- it’s a good reminder of the dedicated public servants that I have the chance to interact with every single day. And they do great work, don’t always get a lot of credit, sometimes get subject to the sort of criticism that you do when you’re in public life, but Raj is single-minded in terms of trying to help as many people as possible all around the world and is an extraordinary representative for our country. So I’m very, very proud of him -- although he does always make me feel like an underachiever whenever I listen to him. (Laughter.) I’m thinking, I should have been working harder and not slouching. (Laughter.)
Dale Jones and everyone else who worked on this breakfast this morning, thank you, and obviously I’m thrilled to be joined by my extraordinary wife and she does a great job every single day keeping me in line. (Applause.)
Just two other thank-yous. To our men and women in uniform all around the world, we pray for them. (Applause.) Many of them doing such great work to keep us safe. And then there is one colleague of mine who is missing today. A great friend of mine who I came into the Senate with, Senator Tom Coburn. Tom is going through some tough times right now but I love him dearly even though we’re from different parties. He’s a little closer to Louie’s political perspective than mine but he is a good man and I’m keeping him and his family in my prayers all the time. So just a shout-out to my good friend, Tom Coburn. (Applause.)
So each time we gather, it’s a chance to set aside the rush of our daily lives; to pause with humility before an Almighty God; to seek His grace; and, mindful of our own imperfections, to remember the admonition from the Book of Romans, which is especially fitting for those of us in Washington: “Do not claim to be wiser than you are.”
So here we put aside labels of party and ideology, and recall what we are first: all children of a loving God; brothers and sisters called to make His work our own. But in this work, as Lincoln said, our concern should not be whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God’s side.
And here we give thanks for His guidance in our own individual faith journeys. In my life, He directed my path to Chicago and my work with churches who were intent on breaking the cycle of poverty in hard-hit communities there. And I’m grateful not only because I was broke and the church fed me, but because it led to everything else.\ It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It led me to Michelle -- the love of my life -- and it blessed us with two extraordinary daughters. It led me to public service. And the longer I serve, especially in moments of trial or doubt, the more thankful I am of God’s guiding hand.
Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion. And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too -- because religion strengthens America. Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights.
So many of you carry on this good work today -- for the child who deserves a school worthy of his dreams; for the parents working overtime to pull themselves out of poverty; for the immigrants who want to step out of the shadows and become a full member of our American family; for the young girl who prays for rescue from the modern slavery of human trafficking, an outrage that we must all join together to end.&
Through our Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, led by Melissa Rogers, we’re proud to work with you on this and many other issues. And I invite you to join us in a new initiative that I announced in my State of the Union address -- an effort to help more young men of color overcome the odds, because so many boys in this country need that mentor to help them become a man and a good father.
I’ve felt the love that faith can instill in our lives during my visits to the Holy Land and Jerusalem -- sacred to Jews and Christians and Muslims. I’ve felt it in houses of worship -- whether paying my respects at the tomb of Archbishop Romero in San Salvador, or visiting a synagogue on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. And I’ve felt the compassion of so many faith leaders around the world, and I am especially looking forward to returning to the Vatican next month to meet His Holiness, Pope Francis, whose message about caring for the “least of these” is one that I hope all of us heed. Like Matthew, he has answered the call of Jesus, who said “follow me,” and he inspires us with his words and deeds, his humility, his mercy and his missionary impulse to serve the cause of social justice.
Yet even as our faith sustains us, it’s also clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat. And that is what I want to reflect on this morning. We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess -- for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.
Today, we profess the principles we know to be true. We believe that each of us is “wonderfully made” in the image of God. We, therefore, believe in the inherent dignity of every human being -- dignity that no earthly power can take away. And central to that dignity is freedom of religion -- the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear.
Our faith teaches us that in the face of suffering, we can’t stand idly by and that we must be that Good Samaritan. In Isaiah, we’re told “to do right. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” The Torah commands: “Know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Koran instructs: “Stand out firmly for justice.” So history shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people -- including the freedom of religion -- are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful. Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism. So freedom of religion matters to our national security. (Applause.)
As I’ve said before, there are times when we work with governments that don’t always meet our highest standards, but they’re working with us on core interests such as the security of the American people. At the same time, we also deeply believe that it’s in our interest, even with our partners, sometimes with our friends, to stand up for universal human rights. So promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. And I’m proud that no nation on Earth does more to stand up for the freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America. (Applause.)
It is not always comfortable to do, but it is right. When I meet with Chinese leaders -- and we do a lot of business with the Chinese, and that relationship is extraordinarily important not just to our two countries but to the world -- but I stress that realizing China’s potential rests on upholding universal rights, including for Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims. (Applause.)
When I meet with the President of Burma, a country that is trying to emerge out of a long darkness into the light of a representative government, I’ve said that Burma’s return to the international community depends on respecting basic freedoms, including for Christians and Muslims. I’ve pledged our support to the people of Nigeria, who deserve to worship in their churches and mosques in peace, free from terror. I’ve put the weight of my office behind the efforts to protect the people of Sudan and South Sudan, including religious minorities.
As we support Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in direct talks, we’ve made clear that lasting peace will require freedom of worship and access to holy sites for all faiths. I want to take this opportunity to thank Secretary Kerry for his extraordinary passion and principled diplomacy that he’s brought to the cause of peace in the Middle East. Thank you, John. (Applause.)
More broadly, I’ve made the case that no society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities, whether they’re Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, or Baha’i in Iran, or Coptic Christians in Egypt. And in Syria, it means ensuring a place for all people -- Alawites and Sunni, Shia and Christian.
Going forward, we will keep standing for religious freedom around the world. And that includes, by the way, opposing blasphemy and defamation of religion measures, which are promoted sometimes as an expression of religion, but, in fact, all too often can be used to suppress religious minorities. (Applause.) We continue to stand for the rights of all people to practice their faiths in peace and in freedom. And we will continue to stand against the ugly tide of anti-Semitism that rears it's ugly head all too often.
I look forward to nominating our next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to help lead these efforts. And we’re moving ahead with our new strategy to partner more closely with religious leaders and faith communities as we carry out our foreign policy. And I want to thank Shaun Casey, from the Wesley Theological Seminary, for leading this work at the State Department. Shaun I think is here today and we want to thank him for the outstanding work that he’s doing. (Applause.) Thank you, Shaun. (Applause.)
So around the world we’re elevating our engagement with faith leaders and making it a regular part of our diplomacy. And today, I invite you to join us in focusing on several pressing challenges. Let’s do more together to advance human rights, including religious freedom. Let’s do more to promote the development that Raj describes -- from ending extreme poverty to saving lives, from HIV/AIDS to combating climate change so that we can preserve God’s incredible creation. On all these issues, faith leaders and faith organizations here in the United States and around the world are incredible partners, and we're grateful to them.
And in contrast to those who wield religion to divide us, let’s do more to nurture the dialogue between faiths that can break cycles of conflict and build true peace, including in the Holy Land.
And finally, as we build the future we seek, let us never forget those who are persecuted today, among them Americans of faith. We pray for Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who’s been held in North Korea for 15 months, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. His family wants him home. And the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release because Kenneth Bae deserves to be free. (Applause.)
We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini. He’s been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges relating to his Christian beliefs. And as we continue to work for his freedom, today, again, we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho. (Applause.)
And as we pray for all prisoners of conscience, whatever their faiths, wherever they’re held, let’s imagine what it must be like for them. We may not know their names, but all around the world there are people who are waking up in cold cells, facing another day of confinement, another day of unspeakable treatment, simply because they are affirming God. Despite all they’ve endured, despite all the awful punishments if caught, they will wait for that moment when the guards aren’t looking, and when they can close their eyes and bring their hands together and pray.
In those moments of peace, of grace, those moments when their faith is tested in ways that those of us who are more comfortable never experience; in those far-away cells, I believe their unbroken souls are made stronger. And I hope that somehow they hear our prayers for them, that they know that, along with the spirit of God, they have our spirit with them as well, and that they are not alone.
Today we give humble thanks for the freedoms we cherish in this country. And I join you in seeking God’s grace in all of our lives. I pray that His wisdom will give us the capacity to do right and to seek justice, and defend the oppressed wherever they may dwell.
I want to thank all of you for the extraordinary privilege of being here this morning. I want to ask you for your prayers as I continue in this awesome privilege and responsibility as President of the United States. May God bless the United States of America, and God bless all those who seek peace and justice. Thank you very much.(Applause.)
Friday, January 31, 2014
After the Senate passed an immigration reform bill last year, it quickly sputtered to a ground halt.
The momentum abruptly shifted when House Republicans refused to consider the bipartisan measure, and it appeared to everyone in Washington (and probably everyone outside the Beltway) that immigration reform was finished.
But late in the year, Republican leaders determined it needed to drill down their own version of immigration reform in an effort to expand the party.
The reversal was on clear display during the State of the Union.
About 20 minutes into the address, President Obama drew applause from both sides of the aisle when he said this:
"If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement - and fix our broken immigration system."
Two days later, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, unveiled an outline for immigration reform at a policy retreat with the House Republican conference.
In a one-page memo leaked to Politico and simply titled "Standards for Immigration Reform," it addresses America's broken immigration system.
"The serious problems in our immigration system must be solved, and [Republicans] are committed to working in a bipartisan manner to solve them."
The memo highlights six principles, starting with border security and enforcement. It also addresses the implementation of a visa tracking system, employment verification, and includes a path to legal status for illegal immigrants who are already here.
There's no guarantee. Boehner and his top lieutenants likely will have a tough time selling the plan to rank-and-file Republicans, especially skeptics of comprehensive reform.
And, he'll try to pick up support from House Democrats. But the well may already be poisoned.
Democrats say any legislation they consider must include a path to citizenship, something House Republicans have ruled out.
If, indeed, this is the year immigration reform is passed, the clock is ticking.
This is also a midterm election year, and the congressional calendar is shorter than it was last year. Essentially they have between now and July to get this done, and there are plenty of potential pitfalls along the way.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Pres. Obama starts off his annual address striking an optimistic tone saying, "I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America. After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth."
President lays down the gauntlet saying he will bypass Congress to advance his policies.
"What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do."
Speaker John Boehner, along with Vice President Joe Biden, stand to salute First Lady Michelle Obama as the President acknowledges her work to advance military families and to battle childhood obesity.
Chamber cheers as POTUS acknowledges Speaker Boehner's roots, "I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. It’s how ... how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth."
POTUS says, "I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible."
"We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped 'Made in the USA.' China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we."
"Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth."
"If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system."
No, your eyes did not betray you. Minority Leader Eric Cantor and Speaker Boehner applauded the President's call for immigration reform.
"I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people."
POTUS shifts to education... "It’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education."
"The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American."
POTUS pivots to income equality... "Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work."
That refrain drew a standing ovation from Republicans and Democrats.
"Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds."
"As a chief executive, I intend to lead by example ... In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty."
Pres. Obama now talks health care reform... "That’s what health insurance reform is all about – the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything."
POTUS now shifts from voting rights to gun reform laws... "And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces."
On Afghanistan, "Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over."
"For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country."
In his fifth year in office, President Obama is still calling for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
POTUS takes a full turn to foreign diplomacy... "American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side."
On Iran's nuclear development, POTUS says, "If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today."
POTUS pivots to why America is involved in working with countries around the globe.
"We do these things because they help promote our long-term security. And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment – when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium – and brings home the gold."
"America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen."
POTUS concludes with hopeful call:
"The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach."
Night folks! And thanks for tuning in. We'll see you again right here next time!
Thursday, January 16, 2014
A year ago I was attending a luncheon at the Library of Virginia when one of the curators announced he had a treat for us. After leading us upstairs to a climate controlled room he said, “If you don’t feel a tingle before you leave, there’s something wrong with you.”
The curator put on white gloves and ever so carefully unwound a rolled up document written on what appeared to be lambskin (or the skin of some other animal).
We all got closer to read what it said.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
Whoa! I was looking at Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom written by his own hand. This old, influential and controversial document was just inches from my face!
“I have a tingle,” I said as I raised my hand.
Once I got over the shock of what I was witnessing, what struck me most was the way it was positioned. The statute appears towards the middle of the long page after and before other bills that Jefferson had pending before Virginia’s House of Delegates that day. His famous statute was one of the many orders of business of the hour, but the impact it’s had on the nation and perhaps the world is immeasurable.
Of all his accomplishments and lasting influence on America, Jefferson wanted his authorship of the statute to be among the three acts listed on his gravestone.
Of course, 228 years after the House of Delegates passed the statute that would become the basis for the First Amendment to the Constitution, it’s still controversial.
The president typically proclaims January 16 Religious Freedom Day and this year was no different. In President Obama’s proclamation he writes:
"America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric and reminds us that what binds us as one is not the tenets of our faiths, the colors of our skin, or the origins of our names. What makes us American is our adherence to shared ideals -- freedom, equality, justice, and our right as a people to set our own course.”
The president goes on to write, “my administration will remain committed to promoting religious freedom, both at home and across the globe.”
I asked White House press secretar Jay Carney to give some examples of how the Obama administration is promoting religious freedom abroad and also if he can assure the American people that the president is doing everything he can to appeal for the Americans being held in Iran, persecuted for their Christian faith.
Here’s what he said.
President Obama’s full Religious Freedom Day Proclamation:
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY, 2014 ------- BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA A PROCLAMATION
In 1786, the Virginia General Assembly affirmed an ideal that has long been central to the American journey. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, penned by Thomas Jefferson, declared religious liberty a natural right and any attempt to subvert it "a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either." The Statute inspired religious liberty protections in the First Amendment, which has stood for almost two and a quarter centuries.
Today, America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric and reminds us that what binds us as one is not the tenets of our faiths, the colors of our skin, or the origins of our names. What makes us American is our adherence to shared ideals -- freedom, equality, justice, and our right as a people to set our own course.
America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose. In the years to come, my Administration will remain committed to promoting religious freedom, both at home and across the globe. We urge every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future.
As we observe this day, let us celebrate America's legacy of religious liberty, embrace diversity in our own communities, and resolve once more to advance religious freedom in our time.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2014, as Religious Freedom Day. I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and activities that teach us about this critical foundation of our Nation's liberty, and show us how we can protect it for future generations at home and around the world.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.
Friday, January 10, 2014
This week's update of Beltway Buzz takes us outside of the Beltway and looks at what's happening to Christians around the globe.
Believe it or not, Christians are the most persecuted demographic worldwide, though it's under-reported in the mainstream media. And, this week we learned Christian persecution is on the rise.
Open Doors, an international ministry that helps persecuted Christians under oppressive regimes, put out its annual World Watch List. The list ranks the top 50 worst countries for Christians to practice their faith.
No surprises here. The biggest offenders are the usual suspects: North Korea, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, and Libya.
For the twelfth year running, North Korea topped the list. Believers in that country must hide their faith.
For example, possession of a Bible could result in execution or a life sentence in concentration camps known as "gulags." According to Open Doors, somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 Christians suffer harsh treatment in North Korea's gulags.
Perhaps most concerning is Syria, where more Christians died last year than the total worldwide in 2012. The Syrian civil war places the country squarely under a trending category the WWL has been tracking. Christian persecution has increased in places considered "failed" states, where "social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control."
David Curry, president of Open Doors, believes the reason for the rise in persecution can be summed up in two words: Islamic extremism.
"In 36 of the top 50 countries on [the] World Watch List, Islamic extremism is the main driver of persecution," Curry said. "It is very dangerous to be a Christian in a country where Islamic extremism is prevalent."
Christians in the West have an obligation to stand with their brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. We must not be silent.
Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, encouraged Christians and churches to speak out for their fellow believers in a recent interview with CBN News. She noted many ancient and historic Christian communities are threatened like never before.
"One of the most powerful things that individual communities, church communities, and people as individuals can do is to reach out to their member of Congress and say, 'You know what: this is a top priority with me and I want to know what you are doing about it,'" Swett said.
The other thing believers need to do is raise their voices toward heaven in prayer for God still hears the cry of his people.
Jesus warned his followers that the world will hate them because it hated him first. (John 15:18)
But he also reminded them, "Great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matt. 5:12)