President Obama’s Remarks At National Prayer Breakfast

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Elise Hilton (Acton PowerBlog).

obama prayer breakfastThe National Prayer Breakfast, a D.C.-event going back to 1953, was held this morning. The keynote was USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and President Obama added remarks. Obama chose to focus on religious freedom, calling it a matter of “national security,” and commenting that he was looking forward to his trip to the Vatican next month to meet with Pope Francis.

Obama also said,

Yet even as our faith sustains us, it’s also clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat. And that is what I want to reflect on this morning. We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess — for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.


While the president clearly wanted to focus on religious freedom outside the United States, those words are true within our nation as well. For instance, the Little Sisters of the Poor make it their mission to love, care for and minister to indigent elderly, yet the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate puts their mission in peril. The president’s administration has tried to quell the furor over forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor (and other organizations like them) by offering to have them sign a “waiver” that would allow a third party to provide artificial birth control, abortifacients and abortion coverage, which the government says isn’t a big deal, but those asked to sign say it violates their conscience. That doesn’t seem like an administration truly committed to freedom of religion.

In 2012, the Supreme Court heard the case of Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC, a case where the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged that a church had unfairly dismissed an employee for “insubordination and disruptive conduct,” and that she should be re-instated. The government

…escalated the dispute, arguing that there should be no ministerial exception and that any minister — even a priest, a rabbi, or a pastor of a congregation — should be able to sue the church that employs him.  This would be a revolution in church-state relations.

The court “unanimously rejected its [the government’s] narrow view of religious liberty as ‘extreme,’ ‘untenable’ and remarkable.’”

Mr. President, while religious freedom anywhere should be a concern to all good people, perhaps your administration could pay a bit more attention to it in your own backyard.

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Solzhenitsyn: ‘There’s Plenty of Freedom, But Little Truth’ | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog

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Source: , Acton Institute PowerBlog.

Pravmir.com, a Russian site, has published an English translation of an interview given by Archpriest Nikolai Chernyshev, who is identified as “the spiritual father of the Solzhenitsyn family during the final years of the writer’s life.” The interview touches on Aleksandr Solzenitsyn’s upbringing in a deeply religious Russian Orthodox family, his encounter with militant atheism ( … he joined neither the Young Pioneers nor the Komsomol [All-Union Leninist Young Communist League]. The Pioneers would tear off his baptismal cross, but he would put it back on every time). Fr. Chernyshev describes the writer’s later “period of torturous doubt, of rejection of his childhood faith, and of pain.” The priest talks of Solzhenitzyn’s return to the faith after his experience in the Gulag and how “he suffered and fretted about the Church being in a repressed state. For him this was open, obvious, naked, and painful.” Excerpt from the interview:

Today many people remember the writer’s famous “Lenten Letter” to Patriarch Pimen (1972) and say that Solzhenitsyn expected, and even demanded, greater participation by the Church in society. What were his views in this regard at the end of his life?

Fr. Chernyshev: Solzhenitsyn was one of those people who could not remain silent; his voice was always heard. And, of course, he was convinced that the Savior’s words Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature should be fulfilled [Mark 16:15]. One of his convictions, his idea, was that the Church, on the one hand, should naturally be separate from the government, but by no means should be separate from society.

He felt that they are quite different, that they are completely opposite things. Its inseparability from society should become more and more manifest. And here he could not but see the encouraging changes of recent years. He joyfully and gratefully took in everything positive taking place in Russia and in the Church – but he was far from complacent, since all of society had become twisted and sick during the years of Soviet rule.

He understood that if the sick lead the sick, or if the lame lead the lame, then nothing good will come of it. The activity he was calling for, that inseparability from society, should by no means be expressed in violence, in the suppressive structure of thought and action customary of the Soviet era.

He felt that, on the one hand, the Church is called to lead society and to have a more active influence on the life of society – but today this should by no means find expression in those forms used by the ideological machine that broke and mangled people. The situation has changed in recent years – and he could not help but sense new dangers.

Once he was asked what he thought about the freedom for which he had fought and what he felt about what was going on. He replied with a single hammered-out phrase: “There’s plenty of freedom, but little truth.” He keenly perceived the danger of a false substitution – and, therefore, was far from calm.

When he returned to the Motherland and began to travel around Russia, he saw the country’s whole plight – not only the economic side, but also its spiritual condition.

Of course, he saw a fundamental difference between the thirties or fifties and the present state of things. He was not a dissident in a state of constant confrontation with everything. This wasn’t the case. There are people who try to make him into this, but this wasn’t who he was. Despite exposing these terrible societal wounds, there was always a powerful life-affirming force in what he wrote and did. He had a Christian’s positive, life-affirming, and luminous attitude.

Read “There’s Plenty of Freedom, But Little Truth”: Solzhenitsyn Remembered, an interview on Pravmir.com

Read PowerBlog posts related to the life and work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) here.

Read the Religion & Liberty interview with Solzhenitsyn scholar Edward E. Ericson Jr. here.

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