NEW DELHI, India — While speaking on the last day to his trip to India, Barack Obama urged acceptance of religious pluralism in the nation, adding on a personal note that sometimes his profession of Christianity is questioned and that he is instead thought to be a Muslim.
“Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God’s children—all equal in His eyes and worthy of His love,” he stated to approximately 2,000 youth gathered at the Siri Fort auditorium.
“Across our two great countries, we have Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, and Jews and Buddhists, and Jains, and so many faiths,” Obama continued. “And we remember the wisdom of Gandhi, [who said], ‘For me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree.'”
He said that freedom of religion is enshrined in both America’s and India’s Constitutions.
“Your Article 25 (of the Constitution) says that all people are ‘equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion,'” Obama noted. “In both our countries—in all countries—upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it’s also the responsibility of every person.”
He stated that while he and his wife identify as Christians, at times those who are not close to the first family question their Christianity, indirectly referring to the suspicion of some that he is really a Muslim.
“In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith,” Obama remarked. “But there have been times that my faith has at times been questioned by people who don’t know me or they’ve said I adhere to a different religion—as if that were somehow a bad thing.”
He then suggested that Muslims are “betraying” their faith by engaging in violent activity.
“Around the world, we’ve seen intolerance and violence and terror by those who profess to be standing up for their faith but are instead betraying it,” Obama said. “No society is immune from the darkest impulses of men, and too often religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses as opposed to the light of God.”
In making his point, he also referenced the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting of 2012, which took the lives of both Americans and Indians.
“Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and fear and discrimination,” Obama stated, being met with 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 no where is that more important than India,” he said. “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith.”
Even before first being elected as president in 2008, Obama made clear in his platform that he advocated for religious pluralism. He has annually released statements for a variety of religious holidays since taking office, including Ramadan, Diwali and Hannukah.