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February 5, 2010

"Far too often we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another," says Obama at National Prayer Breakfast

Remarks of President Barack Obama
National Prayer Breakfast
Thursday, February 5th, 2009
Washington, DC

Good morning. I want to thank the Co-Chairs of this breakfast, Representatives Heath Shuler and Vernon Ehlers. I'd also like to thank Tony Blair for coming today, as well as our Vice President, Joe Biden, members of my Cabinet, members of Congress, clergy, friends, and dignitaries from across the world.

Michelle and I are honored to join you in prayer this morning. I know this breakfast has a long history in Washington, and faith has always been a guiding force in our family's life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our time here.
It's a tradition that I'm told actually began many years ago in the city of Seattle. It was the height of the Great Depression, and most people found themselves out of work. Many fell into poverty. Some lost everything.

The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. It didn't matter what party or religious affiliation to which they belonged. They simply gathered one morning as brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God.

These breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle, and quickly spread to cities and towns across America, eventually making their way to Washington. A short time after President Eisenhower asked a group of Senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it became a national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries here from every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of the rare occasions that still brings much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.

I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another -- as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness.

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we're going next -- and some subscribe to no faith at all.

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule -- the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living, breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do -- to give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world.

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that I'm announcing later today.

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another -- or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don't expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.
This is my hope. This is my prayer.

I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived.

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck -- no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose -- His purpose.

In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying time for our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanks and seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St. Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me, for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thank you.

February 24, 2010

A Catholic analysis of the new Obama healthcare reform plan

In 1993, as the new Clinton Administration was taking office and broadcasting its determination to advance comprehensive healthcare reform, the US Catholic bishops issued a public resolution entitled, "A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform: Protecting Human Life, Promoting Human Dignity, Pursuing the Common Good." It was written by the bishops' Domestic Social Policy Committee in the early months of the new administration, and stated unequivocally the Catholic commitment to providing universal healthcare.

The bishops wrote, "For decades, we have advocated sweeping reform. In communities across our land, we serve the sick and pick up the pieces of a failing system. We are pastors, teachers, and leaders of a community deeply committed to comprehensive health reform. Our urgency for reform reflects both on our traditional principles and everyday experience."


On Monday, President Obama issued his own plan for accomplishing what had previously eluded the Federal Government for 17 years. Since the end of the Clinton years, the rate of increase in healthcare costs has grown 15% faster than gross domestic product, and these costs have proven to be an immense burden on the US economy. But from a Catholic perspective, it is the escalating human cost that is so compelling: 25% more people with no health insurance over the past 8 years, continued increases in bankruptcy because of a personal health crisis (half of all family bankruptcies), and perpetuation of grave health disparities based on race and income level.

The Obama plan bridges the differences between the House and Senate versions of healthcare reform that passed with majority support last fall. In short, the President proposes offering more help to all the states for coverage of their poorest citizens through Medicaid in the early years of the program, particularly in the face of an economic crisis that has led to massive budget cuts by state governments across the country. The plan also plugs the "donut hole" in the medical budgets of elderly people that was left unfunded when the Part D Medicare drug benefit was enacted during the Bush Administration.

The plan would for the first time seek to prevent the kind of massive health insurance premium increases that have recently come to light in Michigan and California, focused on small business owners who would suffer devastating new levels of un-insurance due to lack of affordability without passage of the new reforms.

Perhaps most importantly, the plan would create conditions that provide coverage for 31 million additional people who currently depend on emergency rooms for their routine medical care, at great cost to local governments and all the other patients who actually have insurance coverage. The ten-year cost for this critical social priority, projected by the administration to be about $950 billion, is significantly less than the money that the US will have spent for the first ten years of war in Iraq, according to estimates published in 2008 by Professors Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.

The president's plan draws on both the House and Senate versions in order to fund the legislation, combining a reduction in the Bush tax cuts for upper income Americans with a more slowly implemented tax on employer compensation represented by high end health insurance plans. In stark contrast to the Iraq War, which was funded outside the budget with emergency appropriations, the Obama healthcare plan would not add to the budget deficit.


Many Catholics and others have been concerned about the prospect of healthcare reform resulting in abortion services being funded with federal dollars. Despite news reports to the contrary, the 11-page outline of the Obama plan makes no reference to abortion funding. But in his speech to a joint session of Congress last September, President Obama laid those fears to rest when he said, "One more misunderstanding I want to clear up: under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place."

Nearly half of all Americans currently live in the 17 states that pay for abortion services with state Medicaid dollars, health plans that are currently supported with federal funds--though such funds are rarely paid directly to abortion providers. Conservative opponents immediately lambasted the Obama plan because it did not explicitly adopt the language of the House Stupak Amendment. But at the center of the Stupak language was a prohibition against "the public option" offering any plans that cover abortion. The problem with the logic of these critics is that the Obama plan not only makes no reference to abortion, it makes no reference to a public option.

The key question on abortion, then, is whether some version of the Stupak language, even in the absence of a "public option," would be required to attract the votes of more conservative members of Congress. But theoretically, any prohibition on a contribution by the Federal Government to insurance policies that cover abortion would also affect Federal support for care of all poor people in the 17 states that subsidize abortion services. This would represent a clear break from the Catholic consensus early last year, articulated by the US bishops, that sought only to retain an abortion-neutral approach to funding in the context of the whole healthcare reform effort.

Conservative critics also continue to ignore the administration's encouragement of Democratic legislation that seeks to better support pregnant women and aims to significantly decrease the number of abortions in the United States. Particularly in light of January data from the Guttmacher Institute that both teen pregnancy and abortion began rising in 2006, late in the Bush Administration, the Obama initiatives to decrease abortion take on a new urgency that complements efforts to provide expanded healthcare for the millions of Americans currently without it.

Opponents of the efforts by President Obama, the Catholic bishops, and others to expand healthcare were quick to wave the flag of "a massive government takeover," in the words of House Minority Leader John Boehner. He implicitly denied an assertion on the White House website that "Throughout the debate on health insurance reform, Republican concepts and proposals have been included in legislation. In fact, hundreds of Republican amendments were adopted during the committee mark-up process. As a result, both the Senate and the House passed key Republican proposals that are incorporated into the President's Proposal."


Thursday, February 25, President Obama will convene a historic meeting of Republicans and Democrats to find common ground on the healthcare bills that have already passed Congress. He has responded to critics who said that there was too little transparency with regard to the details of the Democratic legislation by putting his proposed final bill on the White House website. Americans will have a chance to judge for themselves what is the best way forward in solving the complicated healthcare puzzle that currently neglects so many, and casts a shadow of anxiety for millions more.

In the end, the Obama plan represents a healing effort to bridge the differences in funding strategies and the extent of universality between the House and Senate versions of the health reform legislation. As the bishops asserted in their August 2009 Statement on Healthcare, "In our Catholic tradition, health care is a basic human right. Access to health care should not depend on where a person works, how much a family earns, or where a person lives. Instead, every person, created in the image and likeness of God, has a right to life and to those things necessary to sustain life, including affordable, quality health care." President Obama has put his own reputation on the line with a specific plan that could represent a giant step forward in fulfilling this critical Catholic imperative, in service to the common good.

February 25, 2010

Catholic Democrats letter urges Catholics in Congress to provide leadership in wake of bipartisan summit

Calls on them to "give up" divisive rhetoric for Lent and pass health-care reform by Easter

February 25, 2010
Media Contacts:
Ph: 617-817-8617

Boston, MA - Catholic Democrats, a national advocacy organization, is calling on the Catholic members of Congress to "give up" partisanship for Lent, in the wake of the historic summit in Washington DC hosted by President Obama to advance critical health care reform legislation. In a letter to all 160 Catholic Senators and Representatives, signed by the organization's president and national director, Catholic Democrats urged these leaders to draw on their shared religious values in addressing one of the Church's longest standing social priorities - ending the denial of health care to large portions of the US population due to preexisting medical conditions, lack of employer-based insurance, and economic instability.

"Because health and healing are at the heart of the Gospel message," the letter begins, "and because our Church has advocated a right to universal health care so forcefully for nearly a century, we are asking today that you and all Catholic members of Congress follow the tradition of 'giving up something for Lent': namely the divisive politics that has pitted groups of Americans against one another and jeopardized our shared Catholic commitment to achieve universal health care." The Catholic Democrats letter also outlines the social and economic impact the nation faces if health-care reform is not passed.

The group is also hailing President Obama's plan, released on Monday, that bridges the differences between the House and Senate versions of the health-care reform passed last fall with majority support. In short, the President proposes helping all states with coverage of their poorest citizens; plugs the "donut hole" in Part D Medicare that threatens the medical budgets of many of the nation's elderly; seeks regulation of the massive health insurance premium increases; and most importantly, provides coverage for 31 million additional people who currently depend on emergency rooms for their routine medical care.

"From a Catholic perspective, it is the escalating human cost that is so compelling," said Dr Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats. "25 percent more people have no health insurance compared to 9 years ago. Half of all family bankruptcies hit people with insurance who have suffered a major health crisis. And we continue to tolerate perpetuation of grave health disparities based on race and income level. Our current system perpetuates these immoral realities, and it has to stop."

"Lent is an opportunity for Catholics in Congress to help move the nation forward on the issues that divide us," said Steve Krueger, national director of Catholic Democrats. "There is a strong Catholic presence in Congress, with Catholics comprising 30 percent of the 535 members. The Catholic Social Tradition is one that we hope and pray would inform them, at this time, in both their dealings with each other and in the conclusions they reach to provide this fundamental human right for millions of Americans - lest we become callous to the injustices and tragedies unfolding before us every day. They are in a unique and historic position, and to paraphrase St. Paul, 'Now is the time.'"


Saturday, February 24, 2018

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama

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