POLITICS

Obama Calls For Balancing Free Speech With Respect For Religion

02/05/2015 11:29 am ET | Updated Feb 05, 2015

President Barack Obama emphasized Thursday the importance of balancing the right to free speech with respect for religion, chastising groups who have committed acts of terror in the name of faith.

Obama called on those in attendance to "push back against those who would distort our religion for their nihilistic ends," pointing to the actions of the "death cult" Islamic State, as well as the terror attacks in Paris and school massacre in Pakistan, during remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.

"There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today's world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance," the president said.

Obama said we must rely on basic principles, such as humility, to protect our rights to freedom of speech and religion and the rights of others to the same.

"The concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment, and if in fact we defend the legal right of a person to insult another's religion, we're equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are targets of such attacks," he said.

Obama told those in attendance, including the Dalai Lama, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, politicians and faith leaders, that the right to free speech can and should be used to defend others, too.

"Just because you have the right to say something, doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't question those who would insult others in the name of free speech," the president said. "Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they too are full and equal members of our countries."

Obama said the Founding Fathers had it right when they outlined the distinction between faith and government.

"They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech," he added, "that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion. For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both."

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