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Barack Obama on Religion, Atheism, and Secularism

Does Barack Obama Support Secular Government and Equality for Secular Atheists?

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Over the course of his political career, Barack Obama has made a number of comments about secularism, church/state separation, religion, and the role of religion in the public square. Unfortunately, some of these comments have been contradictory - one time he'll say something which appears to support strict separation and secular government, then he'll turn around and say something which supports weak separation and weakened secularism. What does Barack Obama really believe, and why?

Barack Obama's Religious Beliefs & Background: What Does Barack Obama Believe?

Barack Obama's religious background is more diverse than that of most prominent politicians, but it may prove to be representative of future generations of Americans who grow up in an increasingly diverse America. His mother was raised by non-practicing Christians; his father was raised a Muslim but was an atheist by the time he had married Obama's mother. Obama's step-father was also Muslim, but of an eclectic kind who could make room for animist and Hindu beliefs. Neither Obama nor his mother were ever atheists, but she raised him in a relatively secular household where he learned about religion.

Barack Obama on the Nature of Religious Faith: A Force for Good or Evil?

Debates about the role of religion in government and culture invariably require debates about the nature of religion itself. Both conservative and liberal religious believers who want to see more of their own religion involved in public policies invariably make the argument that only their religion is "legitimate" and "true" while the others are following some sort of "false" or "hijacked" religious faith. Barack Obama is, sadly, no exception.

Barack Obama on the Separation of Church & State: Support or Misinformation?

Barack Obama's real opinions about secularism are either confused or simply unknown — he has expressed both sentiments which can be construed as pro-secularist and sentiments which can be construed as anti-secularist. These contradictions might charitably be interpreted as typical political posturing: telling everyone what they want to hear in order to avoid offending anyone. On the other hand, maybe he himself is sincerely confused due to conflicting impulses.

Barack Obama on Secularism: Does Barack Obama Believe in a Secular Government?

Barack Obama's real opinions about secularism are either confused or simply unknown — he has expressed both sentiments which can be construed as pro-secularist and sentiments which can be construed as anti-secularist. These contradictions might charitably be interpreted as typical political posturing: telling everyone what they want to hear in order to avoid offending anyone. On the other hand, maybe he himself is sincerely confused due to conflicting impulses.

Barack Obama on Injecting Religion into Politics: What Role for Religion?

Barack Obama has declared that his religion has an important place in politics - but apparently only on his terms and in the way he wants. As has become common with the so-called "Religious Left," religion used the way he wants is good; religion used differently is not. According to Barack Obama, religious faith must be used to "tackle moral problems" but not "divide the nation." Since when have "moral problems" not divided the nation?

Barack Obama on Secular Atheists: Does Obama View Atheists as Equally Moral?

If Barack Obama's position on secularism and church/state separation is confused at best, what does he think about secular atheists? We've already seen him willing and able to attribute falsehoods to "secularists" — the same falsehoods that are so popular with the Christian Right — so what will stop him from attributing common misrepresentations to atheists? Perhaps nothing, because some comments do suggest acceptance of bigoted myths about atheists.

Barack Obama on the Pledge of Allegiance: Equality vs. Privilege in School

One of the issues where religious believers have the least sympathy for atheists and church/state separation is the Pledge of Allegiance. This isn't hard to understand because it's one of the most prominent forms of religious privilege, but it's also one of the starkest ways in which anti-atheist bigotry is both promoted and accepted in American society. Every day children recite a religious oath which devalues the patriotism and equality of atheists. Barack Obama supports this completely.

Barack Obama on School Prayer

School prayer is a divisive issue because the Christian Right works hard to reintroduce it into public schools. Christian Nationalists blame the elimination of state-written and state-mandated prayers as a major cause of all America's ills. Barack Obama has said that "Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats." There is, however, no effort to eliminate completely voluntary religious groups which pray. It's only prayer that's given official endorsement that's objected to.

Barack Obama on Faith-Based Initiatives

George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives have been a blatant attempt to undermine church/state separation through executive fiat. Rather than go through the Congress or have to face the courts, he just appropriates money and gives it to religious organizations with less oversight or accountability. To some extent, Barack Obama supports federal funding of religious programs: "And one can envision certain faith-based programs - targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers - that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems." In reality, there is little evidence that religious programs are better than secular ones. It's not clear that Barack Obama will eliminate faith-based programs and focus instead on proven secular programs.

Barack Obama on Science & Evolution

In one form or another, conflicts over the teaching of evolution in public schools have been an important aspect of the Christian Right's culture wars against modernity and the Enlightenment. Almost every Republican candidate for president has rejected evolutionary science; support for creationism has almost been a litmus test for Republican politicians. Barack Obama does accept evolutionary science and, moreover, he opposes teaching any form of creationism - including Intelligent Design creationism - alongside evolution in public schools.
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