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Is Obama's Legacy a 'War on Religion'?

01-11-2017
Barack Obama
Barack Obama

As President Barack Obama prepares to leave the White House, many are looking back at his faith, or lack of it.

The president says he is a Christian and has hinted at his faith over the last eight years in office.

Yet some Americans are confused about his beliefs and even accuse him of initiating a "war on religion."

Early Signs 

He sent positive signals early on. One of Obama's earliest executive orders supported the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which was started by George W. Bush.

And near the end of his presidency, his faith was on full display during the eulogy of a slain South Carolina minister who was killed after welcoming a stranger to his church's Bible study.

"What he did was unlike anything he'd done before," reports Religion News Service.

After eulogizing the Rev. Clementia Pinckney and discussing the moral and spiritual dimensions of racial hatred and gun violence, the president started singing, "Amazing Grace."  The audience joined in.

"It was like — wow. Wow," said Bishop Vashti McKenzie, who was standing just behind Obama when he spoke at the June 26, 2015 funeral.

McKenzie, who heads the African Methodist Episcopal Church's General Board, said the speech was an answer to those who questioned if this president was a Christian.

"It reminded us that he is a man of faith," the bishop added. "And it said a lot for his faith and it said a lot to the faith community."

Conflicting Signals

But throughout his years in office, President Obama sent other conflicting signals about faith. 

Critics point to several examples that support their argument about a "war on religion."

For example, the Obama administration has opposed the right of government subsidized religious organizations to hire based on faith.

"If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion," he said in 2008.

Contraception Mandate 

And the president's support of abortion has been highly cited.

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Obama of starting a "war on religion' with the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, which has prompted some 100 lawsuits by religious opponents.

Opposing Defense of Marriage Act 

On gay marriage, President Obama also opposed the Defense of Marriage Act which allowed the states to determine what defines marriage.  

He made gay rights a cornerstone of his administration and he drew a major line in the sand in support of gay marriage.

In an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's "Good Morning America" in 2012, Obama made history saying, "I've just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

He went on to say that he and his wife, Michelle Obama, talked together about the issue.

"We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others," he said. "But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated."

Rejecting an Evangelical Pastor 

Evangelical pastor Louie Giglio was pressured to withdraw from delivering the benediction at President's Obama's inauguration in 2012.  A spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee said the person chosen to deliver the benediction would reflect the administration's position.

Giglio was replaced by the pastor of an Episcopal parish which blesses gay and lesbian unions and elects bishops who live openly with same-sex partners.

Targeting Nuns and Christian Businesses 

The Obama administration also targeted nuns over the Health and Human Services contraception mandate.  

The Little Sisters of the Poor went before the Supreme Court to challenge the federal government's mandate that they offer abortion drugs despite their religious convictions.

The Supreme Court court sent the case back to the lower courts.

Christian-owned Hobby Lobby also filed a federal lawsuit against the abortion pill mandate in Obamacare.

They said Obamacare's mandate requiring they provide insurance coverage for all forms of birth control violates their religious rights. 

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Christian business owners, that profit-seeking business such as the arts and crafts chain can hold religious views under the law.

Meanwhile, the president's infrequent church attendance also contributes to criticism of the sincerity of his faith.

President Obama will remain in the White House until January 20, 2017.

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