WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama celebrated religious diversity at his fourth annual Ramadan Iftar dinner on Friday evening, mourning the victims of the recent Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin and fully backing State Department official Huma Abedin, who has had her allegiances called into question by conservative lawmakers.
"Of all the freedoms we cherish as Americans, of all the rights that we hold sacred, foremost among them is freedom of religion, the right to worship as we choose," Obama said at the dinner, held in the East Room of the White House. "It’s enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution -- the law of the land, always and forever. It beats in our heart -- in the soul of the people who know that our liberty and our equality is endowed by our creator."
Obama highlighted several Muslim American women who, he said, enrich America. One women he highlighted was Abedin, one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top aides.
"The American people owe her a debt of gratitude -- because Huma is an American patriot, and an example of what we need in this country -- more public servants with her sense of decency, her grace and her generosity of spirit," Obama said. "So, on behalf of all Americans, we thank you so much."
The president's recognition of Abedin comes as she faces accusations that she is helping the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrate the U.S. government. Five conservative lawmakers, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), recently wrote to federal agencies asking for an investigation.
The accusations stem from a report by the Center for Security Policy. The organization is run by Frank Gaffney, who has been crusading against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sharia law for years.
The Muslim Brotherhood claims have been widely dismissed, by figures who include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), as well as groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Obama also paid tribute to the six victims of the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wis. last week. They were murdered by a gunman who had white supremacist sympathies.
"We’ve seen instances of mosques and synagogues, churches and temples being targeted," Obama said. "Tonight, our prayers, in particular, are with our friends and fellow Americans in the Sikh community. We mourn those who were senselessly murdered and injured in their place of worship. And while we may never fully understand what motivates such hatred, such violence, the perpetrators of such despicable acts must know that your twisted thinking is no match for the compassion and the goodness and the strength of our united American family."
Obama continued, "So tonight, we declare with one voice that such violence has no place in the United States of America. The attack on Americans of any faith is an attack on the freedom of all Americans. No American should ever have to fear for their safety in their place of worship. And every American has the right to practice their faith both openly and freely, and as they choose."