Obama’s 2006 Speech on Religion

In discussing James Dobson’s attack on Obama yesterday I used a quotation I had handy to illustrate Obama’s viewpoint which Dobson is attacking. I’ve since dug up the actual speech at the Call to Renewal’s Building a Covenant for a New America conference which Dobson is referring to. The transcript is available here.

Obama discussed the relationship between religion and government. He supported more consideration of religion than is common among liberals but also stressed the limitations of using religion as the basis for public policy. He also recognizes that religious views will influence public debate on issues of morality but that morality is not limited to religion:

But what I am suggesting is this – secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they’re something they’re not. They don’t need to do that. None of us need to do that.

Later in the speech Obama discussed the point which I referred to in the earlier post and which Dobson is attacking:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

Talk to Action also discusses Dobson’s attacks, along with his denial of separation of church and state. They conclude:

Dobson and Obama can disagree all they want about the proper interpretation of the Bible. But Barack Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for twelve years, while James Dobson has a long record of issuing utterly spurious declarations about the constitution with complete conviction.

1 Comment

  1. 1
    MsJoanne says:

    Dobson is one of the most repugnant individuals to enter the political stage.  How about paying some taxes before you take them for your faith based bullshit?  Nah, it’s easier to buy a politician. 
    Fuck you, dude…you deserve every bad thing that happens to you.  If there was a god who smote, this man would be toast. 
    I have rarely hated someone as much as this man.  His wife is chattel to come after the husband, children and dog routine disgusts me.  His Focus on the Family organization based in Colorado Springs, CO requires – mandates – that its employees attend church and pray.  He is everything which is anti-American.
    And it is soooooooooooo sweet to watch him know that his power on the political stage is doomed.

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