Obama Draws On Faith At Prayer Breakfast
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President Obama also weighed in today on America's obligation to the poor. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, the president cited the biblical injunction to care for the least among us and to speak up for those who are destitute. He said his policy choices are often guided by his Christian faith, and he appealed for tolerance of those with differing views. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the administration is currently at odds with the Catholic Church over a controversial policy concerning birth control.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Amazing grace...
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual tradition in Washington, a bipartisan chance for policymakers who may have been acting like children to spend at least one morning acting like God's children. President Obama has been a regular at the breakfast since his Senate days. He's often used the opportunity to talk about his faith. We can't leave our values at the door, he said today, treating others as you want to be treated, living by the principle that we are our brother's keeper and caring for the poor and those in need.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many nonbelievers, and they're values that have always made this country great when we live up to them.
HORSLEY: The White House says Mr. Obama was not campaigning against Mitt Romney or anyone else, but he was more explicit today than in the past about connecting his faith to specific policy measures, including health care and Wall Street regulation and his push for higher taxes on the wealthy.
OBAMA: As a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says he's often prayed for guidance in his role as president. At the same time, he was careful to say Christianity does not come with a detailed political program.
OBAMA: It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
OBAMA: So instead, it is our hope that people of goodwill can pursue their values and common ground and the common good as best they know how.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has long stressed the importance of respect towards those with differing religious views, which is why some supporters are surprised and angry about a new administration health care policy that requires most employer insurance plans to cover birth control at no cost. The policy includes a narrow exception for churches with a religious objection of birth control but not, for example, big Catholic hospitals or universities. Spokeswoman Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that's a violation of conscience.
SISTER MARY ANN WALSH: The Catholic Church – it's no secret - does not believe in artificial means of contraception. And here, you're saying, well, you have to pay for them. Not only we don't care that you don't believe it, you had to pay for something that you don't believe in.
HORSLEY: The White House insists it's trying to strike a balance between respecting religious views while also making birth control accessible. It notes the vast majority of women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, use birth control during their lifetime. Political scientist John Green, who studies religion and politics at the University of Akron, says it's not clear how lay Catholics will react to this controversy, but he knows white Catholics in particular carry a lot of weight in battleground states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
DR. JOHN GREEN: Many of them swing back and forth from election to election. So if this controversy were to develop into strong antipathy among white Catholics to the administration, then that could pose a serious problem for the president at the ballot box.
HORSLEY: A White House spokesman said today he doesn't know if Mr. Obama prayed over the birth control policy, but some critics are urging the president to give that policy another look. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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