Yesterday, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of deliberations on matters related to religious freedom and expression.
Three things in particular caught my attention:
It was a national prayer breakfast.
The President quoted Pope Francis and spoke about his upcoming meeting with him.
The issue of religious persecution was discussed by the President.
A number of years ago, I participated in testimony before a congressional committee considering legislation that would include monitoring violations of religious freedoms as part of a broader focus on international human rights violations. This legislation passed and now there are regular reports on these issues that raise awareness see most recent report:
The religious freedom we take for granted in the United States is not respected nor enjoyed worldwide. We should give thanks for what we enjoy in our own country. Also, we need to be vigilant to protect our religious freedom in this country that is continuously threatened in very different ways – many times very subtly, a few times with outward malice and sometimes unintentionally. Both the establishment and free exercise clause of the first amendment are to be balanced in the public square.
I also had the honor to participate in a previous Presidential prayer breakfast at the White House with President Clinton in which he discussed various world issues on which religious leaders shared their perspective. On that particular occasion the topic was Third World debt.
These are important parts of our country’s legacy of respecting religion’s role in the public square as one critical voice that informs just and compassionate policies.
Pope Francis continues to be a voice that is listened to throughout the world – including those who are not Catholic. This is as it should be because his message, while steeped in our Catholic tradition, is meant to speak to a range of issues that impact humanity – not specifically or exclusively Catholics or Christians. The encyclical Peace on Earth by John XXIII extended his opening salutation to all of good will. The power of the message of life, justice, peace, compassion, dignity of the human person and so many more, rooted in the gospel speak to the best instincts of the human heart. The world is listening. We need to make sure that we who are Catholic are also listening.