The office of President of the United States carries with it heightened public scrutiny. The vigilance of the media chips away at a leader’s privacy until every facet of his life becomes an open book for the world to see. One of the constant attacks that the current president has faced is intense concern by the American people about the Commander in Chief’s religious views. Capitalizing on anti-Muslim sentiments in the wake of September 11th, various members within the complex framework of various extreme right organizations have planted doubt in the minds of voters using accusations and the power of social media to disseminate unsubstantiated claims. So why would a “Muslim” who “despises Christians and God” concern himself with the opinion of the Vatican?
This week President Obama met with Pope Francis to discuss religious freedom, human trafficking and international conflict:
ROME — President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time Thursday in a discussion that focused on international conflict, human rights and religious freedom.
Obama invited Francis to visit the U.S. next year.
The private meeting was widely expected to be cordial — while providing Francis with an opportunity to raise some prickly issues. The Vatican opposes the Affordable Care Act mandate that Catholic hospitals and institutions provide health plans that cover contraceptive drugs and abortifacients such as morning-after pills, which the church opposes on moral grounds. The church also opposes same-sex marriage, which Obama supports.
Obama, at a news conference later with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, said those discussions took place with the Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, not with Francis. Issues such as contraception and religious freedom, Obama said, were “not a topic of conversation” with the pope.
“I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded,” Obama said. “And I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems and not simply thinking in terms of our own narrow self-interests.”
The brief Vatican statement provided few specifics from the 52-minute meeting.
“Views were exchanged on some current international themes and it was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” the statement said.
The statement add that “there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform.”
The statement also included a mutual commitment to ending human trafficking.
Before the meeting, both men were all smiles.
“I bring greetings from my family,” the president said to the pope when they met. “The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children.”
Obama presented Francis with a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House’s garden. “These I think are carrots,” he said, holding a pouch. “Each one has a different seed in it. The box is made from timber from the first cathedral to open in the United States in Baltimore.”
The pope gave the president an encyclical. “I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down,” the president said smiling.
In Italy, Obama’s visit — which also included talks with Renzi and President Giorgio Napolitano — has been a topic of conversation all week. Italians said they hoped Obama’s short stop in Italy would lead to positive changes in the country and beyond.
“The whole world is suffering, and when you have two great leaders meet to discuss the world’s economic problems, you have to have hope it will make a difference,” said Salvatore Mucci, a 44-year-old coffee bar worker.
According to several polls, as high as 17% of registered voters believe that Obama is a Muslim despite the fact that he attended a Catholic school in his youth and has been a member of a Christian church for over 20 years. Today, on Facebook and Twitter countless comments expressed an overwhelming desire for the President to “find Jesus” and “learn the One True God” from his meeting with the Pope.
This NBC News article attempts to clear up any confusion about the President’s religious stance:
Barack Obama is stepping up his effort to correct the misconception that he’s a Muslim now that the presidential campaign has hit the Bible Belt.
At a rally to kick off a weeklong campaign for the South Carolina primary, Obama tried to set the record straight from an attack circulating widely on the Internet that is designed to play into prejudices against Muslims and fears of terrorism.
“I’ve been to the same church _ the same Christian church _ for almost 20 years,” Obama said, stressing the word Christian and drawing cheers from the faithful in reply. “I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible. Whenever I’m in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. So if you get some silly e-mail … send it back to whoever sent it and tell them this is all crazy. Educate.”
Obama is referring to a debunked chain e-mail circulating widely on the Internet that suggests he is hiding his Islamic roots and may be a terrorist in disguise. It says he was sworn into the Senate on the Quran and turns his back on the flag during the pledge.
Some facts, some misstatements
There are some truths in the e-mail’s details. Obama’s middle name is Hussein. His father and stepfather were Muslim. And he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country. But he attended secular and Catholic schools, not a radical madrassa.
His campaign has been pushing back against the false rumors all year. His aides decried an incorrect news report that Obama was educated in a Muslim madrassa and a section of his Web site is devoted to correct that and other false rumors circulating on the Internet.
But they are stepping up the effort now that the campaign has hit South Carolina and soon turns to other southern states where religion is so important to voters. The campaign distributed an open letter from seven Jewish senators this weekend condemning the attacks; aides are planning an event this week to respond directly to the e-mails; and campaign representatives blanketed South Carolina churches Sunday with literature that touted Obama’s Christian faith.
One piece features photos of Obama praying with the words “COMMITTED CHRISTIAN” in large letters across the middle. It says Obama will be a president “guided by his Christian faith” and includes a quote from him saying, “I believe in the power of prayer.”
A second piece, which like the first doesn’t mention the Muslim rumor, includes photos of Obama with his family and a caption that says they are active members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It explains how as a young man Obama “felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life.”