At the end of his trip to India, President Obama delivered an address aimed particularly at young people. His remarks Tuesday touched on a number of issues, including the importance of religious liberty. Every person, he emphasized, must have the right to practice religion, or not, as they choose, if a nation is to achieve the full potential of all its people.
The President’s remarks are especially compelling in light of India’s relatively poor religious liberty record, which persists despite the guarantee of religious freedom enshrined in India’s Constitution. Notably, the speech includes personal references to the President’s own faith and the way many in America have questioned it.
Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God’s children — all equal in His eyes and worthy of His love. Across our two great countries we have Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, and Jews and Buddhists and Jains and so many faiths. And we remember the wisdom of Gandhiji, who said, “for me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree.” (Applause.) Branches of the same majestic tree.
In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith. But there have been times where my faith has been questioned — by people who don’t know me — or they’ve said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing. Around the world, we’ve seen intolerance and violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing up for their faith, but, in fact, are betraying it. No society is immune from the darkest impulses of man. And too often religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses as opposed to the light of God. Three years ago in our state of Wisconsin, back in the United States, a man went to a Sikh temple and, in a terrible act of violence, killed six innocent people — Americans and Indians. And in that moment of shared grief, our two countries reaffirmed a basic truth, as we must again today — that every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination. (Applause.)
The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts. And it finds its glorious expression when we look beyond any differences in religion or tribe, and rejoice in the beauty of every soul. And nowhere is that more important than India. Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith — so long as it’s not splintered along any lines — and is unified as one nation.
You can read the entire speech here.