(Editor’s Note: This the first of a series of articles on President Barack Obama’s war on religion)
The American people have been exceedingly fair in drawing a distinction between the personal religious beliefs and practices of presidential candidates and the public policies they adopt. This does not mean that personal predilections are without policy implications.
To be sure, there are occasions when key personal anecdotes reveal something important about the mindset of candidates. Take, for example, what Michelle and Barack Obama told People magazine in 2008 about the “Obama House Rules.”
Of the seven “House Rules” they enumerated, most were conventional, but one stood out: Michelle and Barack do not believe in giving Christmas gifts to their children. Barack explained that he wants “to teach some limits.”
Special Report: Obama’s Assault on Religion — Click Here Now
The goal is noble. But of all the other choices available to them — setting spending limits, putting a limit on TV time — for some reason they chose the Christmas holiday as their teaching moment. This is more than unusual: non-Christians, as well as agnostics and atheists, are known to exchange Christmas gifts.
Against this backdrop, we can make sense of the controversy that erupted during the Obamas’ first Christmas at the White House. At issue was whether they should break tradition and nix the display of a manger scene.
The flap started when The New York Times reported that the Obamas were planning a “non-religious Christmas.” The leak came from a former White House social secretary who attended a luncheon for the new appointee, Desirée Rogers: allegedly, the Obamas were not going to permit the display of a nativity scene.
When Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg contacted the White House to see if this was true, the story was confirmed. Stolberg was told “there [have] been internal discussions about making Christmas more inclusive and whether to display the crèche.” In the end, the Obamas decided to allow a manger scene.
However, Christmas did not escape without controversy. For reasons never explained, the White House Christmas tree was adorned with ornaments depicting drag queens and mass murderers (Mao Zedong was featured; he killed 77 million of his own people).
In 2008, when Obama was a presidential candidate, he made a comment about white working-class Christians that would come back to haunt him. “It’s not surprising,” he said, “[that] they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” What proved to be so revealing about this admission was the venue: in a closed-door session, he addressed a forum of wealthy, left-leaning secularists in San Francisco.
Given his mindset, it is not surprising that Obama is opposed to the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property. More surprising are his reservations regarding the display of religious symbols on private property. He was only in office a few months when his advance team told officials at Georgetown University that they had better put a drape over any religious symbols that might appear as a backdrop to where the president was going to speak. To drive the point home, they made sure that the IHS symbol, a monogram of the name Jesus Christ, was not in sight.
On Sept. 15, 2009, Obama addressed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 33rd Annual Awards. It was to be a perfunctory speech, although it didn’t turn out that way. To wit: Obama did not reference God, or the “Creator,” when citing the Declaration of Independence.
Here is what he said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights . . .” This is not what Jefferson wrote. He was explicit about the origin of our rights, noting that all men were “endowed by their Creator” with certain unalienable rights.
What Obama said was no accident; the remarks were prepared. Moreover, even after being roundly criticized for this startling omission, Obama did the exact same thing only a month later at a fundraiser in Rockville, Md.
The fact is Obama is uncomfortable with America’s Christian heritage. In 2010 he could not bring himself to utter the words “In God We Trust” when speaking in Indonesia about our national motto; instead, he substituted “E Pluribus Unum.” But he is quite comfortable with atheists.
In 2010, Obama became the first president in U.S. history to welcome a gathering of atheists: administration officials met with activists from the Secular Coalition for America, an umbrella group that includes American atheists and other virulently anti-Christian organizations.
Obama is not equally jittery about all religions. When it comes to Islam, he can be very accommodating. For example, in 2010 he said he supported the right of Muslims to build a mosque at Ground Zero. The real issue, of course, was not a legal one — it was a moral one. He refused to discuss this matter.
It is not simply Obama who is uncomfortable with religion; it is true of the most active members of his party. Consider what just happened at the Democratic National Convention. On the first day, there was a panel discussion led by a notorious foe of the religious rights of Catholics, namely, Catholics for Choice (CFC).
This group, which is nothing more than a well-funded letterhead sponsored by the likes of the Ford Foundation — it has no members — has twice been condemned by the bishops’ conference as a fraud. Perversely, CFC addressed the subject of religious liberty! This would be like having the Klan speak about race relations at the RNC.
Until 2012, every Democratic Party Platform made some reference to God. But things changed this year, demonstrating once again that the administration has a “God problem.”
In 2008, the platform mentioned that government “gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given
potential.” The italics, which I added, were deleted from the 2012 Platform. Worse, when CNN’s Piers Morgan asked DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz why someone “deliberately” excised the word “God,” she replied, “I can assure you that no one has deliberately taken God out of the Platform.”
Special Report: Obama’s Assault on Religion — Click Here Now
After listening to this remarkable response, Morgan pressed her again, asking, “So it was an accident?” She refused to comment.
Once the pushback began, the Obama team folded and reinstated God. But even this process turned out to be a disaster. After ignoring the expressed will of the delegates — a voice vote to put God back in the platform was split (it didn’t come close to the two-thirds majority that was needed) — it was ruled, by fiat, to have passed.
Terri Holland, a New Mexico delegate, made a very revealing remark when she said that the revisions were made to “kow-tow to the religious right.” In other words, thoughtful Democrats would never want to pay homage to God in their Platform.
(The second article in this series will address Obama’s secular allies.”)
Dr. William Donohue is the president of and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization. The publisher of the Catholic League journal, Catalyst, Bill is a former Bradley Resident Scholar at the Heritage Foundation and served for two decades on the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars. The author of five books, two on the ACLU, and the winner of several teaching awards and many awards from the Catholic community, Donohue has appeared on thousands of television and radio shows speaking on civil liberties and social issues.
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